Entering the play state through collaboration

This article was published by Creative Collective

Sometimes making art can be difficult. I am a full time artist, working in the studio every day, but up until fairly recently that wasn’t the case. When I graduated my MA I became ill and for several years wasn’t able to make any work. Once I was better and back in the studio I struggled to find the momentum and confidence to get anything done. I was frustrated so decided to try something new – there was an artist whose worked I had discovered while curating a show for a local gallery, who had made a sculpture using marine chains. Even though I am a painter and his work was sculptural, I decided to ask him if he wanted to work on a collaboration.


We worked in my studio on a series of heads using polystyrene and various other materials, jamming stuff together in a playful way, just seeing what we could come up with. Because the medium was completely new to me, it was easy for me to get into a playful state and allow the art to happen spontaneously. It is the artist’s job to get out of his or her own way and let the work do what it wants to do, and collaboration is a great way to let this happen. Also, because the work wasn’t solely mine, that allowed me to be less self-critical than usual; and I really liked what we had made. This collaboration lark was exactly what I needed – it had unlocked my creativity and confidence, allowing me to make my own work again away from the collaborative space. Since then I have collaborated with several other artists whose work I admire, and I continue to do so; it is now an intrinsic part of my practice.


So here is what I think collaboration can offer you:


This I think is the key advantage that collaboration offers us as artists that we of course can access in our own work, and should if we want to make great art, but I have found it is easier to access via collaboration. Due to the nature of collaboration, it is easy to enter a space of play where you are riffing with each other, trying things out for fun, enjoying the creativity of working with another person, reacting to and bouncing off of one another – creating a kind of creative feedback loop that is inspiring and fun. When we play, we allow the work to find its own form and surprise us, which is when art is at its best.



Because you are in a play state, there seems to be less intrusion from the policeman in your head. If you don’t know what I mean by that term, it is how I refer to the internal voice that criticises what you are making as you’re making it. The one that says “Oh that won’t work” or “Don’t do that, you might ruin it” or “What will people think of this piece of work?” as you are trying to make the thing, which kills the creativity. The play state doesn’t allow room for the policeman in your head and as a result the work is purer as you are in a flow state.



In my experience, artists tend to be very critical of their own work in a way that they aren’t with the work of others. Because collaboration work isn’t solely yours, it seems to be much easier to appreciate and enjoy the results, which is a lovely feeling. I have found that often I can appreciate my own work once I haven’t seen it for a reasonable length of time, having created distance from it, but this seems to happen almost instantly with collaboration work.


Working with another artist is bound to bring new ideas into the creative space. You get to inspire each other with marks, gestures, materials, techniques, thoughts, ideas, insights (etc.) that you wouldn’t necessarily have come up with on your own. These new ideas are forever part of your arsenal as well, so as you go forward collaborating with other artists, you are continually increasing your artists toolbox of ideas and gestures for future projects. I am without doubt richer creatively as a result of my working with other artists, and I thank them for that.



Lastly, collaboration also has a network benefit, which is why we often see professional musicians, fashion brands (etc.) collaborating. Each of us has a network of people interested in our work regardless of our level of success, and collaborating gives us access to those combined audiences, giving us the opportunity to find new people that will follow us, come to shows, or buy work. Although I instinctively recoil from any kind of talk of ‘networking’, ‘making money’ or ‘increasing audience’ blah blah blah, having our work seen and enjoyed by more people is always a good thing.

So… there you have it. My little spiel about collaboration and the benefits it can bring to your practice. It might not be for everyone, but I think it will bring more to your work than you might imagine. Give it a go. Think of an artist you know whose work you like (if they work in a different medium all the better) and ask if they fancy trying a collaboration. Meet up and have a play!

Matt Bray: Collabs is currently on show at Sun Pier House, Chatham from 10th – 27th April 2019. Check his instagram for more info.

‘Matt Bray :: Collabs’ review by Anna Morell

Collabs. Collaborations. Co laboratories. The latest exhibition from Matt Bray is a collection of works of exploration and experimentation in conjunction with a number of artists and friends – Wendy Daws, and her tactile interplays of light, shade and physical form; Zara Carpenter and her gentle corruptions of the self through decayed portraiture; Daisy Parris and her free splashes of texture and emotion; Darrell Hawkins and his open playful colourings; Adam Newton and his dystopian literal headspaces and Miles Bray’s free and easy brushstrokes.

installation view

installation view

There is a strong undercurrent of play within the works. A shedding of purpose to rediscover form through freedom. A being in the moment, for the sheer joy, and maybe hell, of seeing what happens. A presentness. A disconnection of conscious thought to connect with another’s pure emotions over canvas. These works are snapshots of moments – often executed quickly, the freedom of them creating a connection to timelessness.

As you enter, on the right, is a collection of three loosely figurative crowds. Inspired by Baroque paintings, Bray has filtered them through the neon of memories of rave culture, their loose lines painted with a nod to the Impressionists, canonical connection through important artistic movements, eyes scrawled on with day-glo pen, wired, buzzing, melding into oblivion and obliviousness within the melee of movement and people, the odd goat looking out directly from the crush – Pan connecting, perhaps inviting, the viewer into these worlds. They are supposed to be dark, but there is something in the colours which is enticing as a beach scene. The line between hedonism and hellishness drawn only when your eyes match theirs.

‘Who brings a goat to a party?’ by Matt Bray

‘Who brings a goat to a party?’ by Matt Bray

The colours follow through into bright, saturated, Pop Art oversized Polaroids of Bray taken by Zara Carpenter. As part of her ongoing work as co-creator (also with Bray) of the Sick! movement, Carpenter’s latest tranche of works sees her exploring the lived experience of chronic health conditions through the corruption of traditional art media. Carpenter’s photographic portraits have been left outside to corrode, disintegrate and decay, beneath earth, elements and chemicals, each stripping or scrunching of detail creating a twist in emotional response to the face of Bray beneath the corrosion.

The colourways lead, again, into his collaborations with Darrell Hawkins. Hawkins and Bray’s styles have always had an overlap in terms of their unabashed embracing of bright palettes, their figurative art often crammed with blotches and squiggles, the energy of these making the response to them more visceral, as with abstracts. The grump of the bunny undermined by the casual bananas and colours splashed all over him. The demand of the ‘SMILE’ in the corner of the portrait in profile ignored with pride, language ignored, scrubbed out elsewhere on the calico, as the lion’s face connects with the animal in the artists – base emotion the driver to create the collaboration – no space for the restriction of thought. It is puerile in its very best, rarely used sense – free, delighted, delightful, with absolutely zero shame. Childlike.

‘Kickass’ by Matt Bray and Darrell Hawkins

‘Kickass’ by Matt Bray and Darrell Hawkins

Bray has spent the past couple of years collaborating with his nephew, Miles. Miles is five. Give a child of this age a paintbrush, and they will express freely, with no nod to thought. For an adult, it is a lesson in unlearning. The Pink Series is a collection of small canvases where Bray Snr has actively tried to channel Bray Jr’s openness. Pink splatters pink splashes magenta and cerise. Pink as child cheek, in both senses. There is an inherent feminity to it, because, well, pink. It feels subversive, and light to use such a recently socially divisive colour, to just be itself, splashed around by a couple of boys.

More pink, scumbling over the lines of a woman. She will be finished by Bray as an artist in residence piece throughout the exhibition. Prone, classical, possibly pained, she rests, or is at permanent rest, poised in death. The canvas is huge, unavoidable and serious. This piece is for Kate Ashley – a local, much loved yoga teacher who died young, and recently. It is the only piece in the collection which demands a moment’s pause – the face demanding some alone time with its viewer, the emotions of the abstracts tempered into thought: why her (and it is a universal Her)? Why here? The existentialism of the piece a call back to mortality, before the splash of pure abstract in the next set of collaborations with Daisy Parris. It feels like a companion piece to Bray’s other large-form female – 2017’s Lux Lisbon, which hung in the exact same spot as part of Carpenter’s Sick! Exhibition.

The Bray-Parris collabs throw deep sage, mustard, pink and black around in a triptych that harks back to Cy Twombly. Again, there is a feminine energy here, although whose is whose is not obvious. These are dark, angry, free, fierce and proud. They are graceful, light, and serious.

A tactile piece will be developed over the exhibition with Dawes, and Bray’s trademark head sculptures, developed in collaboration with Adam Newton, are dotted around – disconnected, faceless, disgusting, pubescent. Macabre and silly simultaneously, momenti mori which somehow laugh with the vitality that infuses this entire exhibition.

Foreground: ‘Rotten Heads’ by Matt Bray & Adam Newton. Background: ‘Who brings a goat to a party? (version II)’ and ‘She’s gone away (for Kate)’ by Matt Bray

Foreground: ‘Rotten Heads’ by Matt Bray & Adam Newton. Background: ‘Who brings a goat to a party? (version II)’ and ‘She’s gone away (for Kate)’ by Matt Bray

Matt Bray: Collabs runs from 10 April – 27 April 2019 at Sun Pier House, Chatham (open wed-sat 11-4pm)

University of Kent Interview

Interview with MA Fine Art alumnus Matt Bray, co-founder of the Medway Print Festival

Drawing at the dockyard during MA. Photo by Gaz Bray

Drawing at the dockyard during MA. Photo by Gaz Bray

Matt Bray is a practising artist, freelance curator and arts consultant, who graduated from SMFA in 2012 with an MA Fine Art. He co-founded the Medway Print Festival, which is running until 24th June at present, and multimedia group exhibition Sick!

Matt kindly took time out from his busy schedule to chat with SMFA’s Marketing & Communications Officer, Jane Seaman.

How did your time at Kent prepare or equip you for the role you have now?
My time at Kent equipped me with a far richer understanding of contemporary art and its relationship to the longer stream of art history. That has afforded me a more nuanced understanding of both my own work and the work of others, allowing me to curate more mature and interesting shows, and I’ve developed confidence in my abilities as an artist and curator as a result.

What does your job involve?  Is there a typical day?
There are no typical days. Networking is key though, so I can often be spotted having coffee with artists and gallerists (tough life I know). Funding is the least glamorous and most important element of putting exhibitions and festivals together, so that is something I have had to learn on the job – how is the project going to be funded? Arts Council? Local council? Paid by the artists? Somehow it needs to be paid for and that requires good clear ideas and being able to articulate those ideas well. Once funding is secured the rest of the project is normally plain sailing to a large degree.

What kind of opportunities offered at Kent were especially beneficial for your career development?
Putting on the degree show was obviously a pretty important experience, and it was such a great place to host an exhibition.

What have you been doing since graduating?
Since graduating I have been in the studio whenever possible, I have also been running several key projects like ‘Sick!’ and ‘Medway Print Festival’, both of which have been very successful and I have been lucky enough that the people I run those with are very good friends, so although it can be very hard work sometimes, it is always super fun.

What would you recommend to anyone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
If anyone wants to get involved in curation, then the only real advice I can offer is to put shows on.  My first exhibition was in a bookshop with my buddy. You can start small if need be, but just put shows on, as often as possible, of your own work or other people’s, it doesn’t matter. You will learn so much from every show – like anything else, the more you do it, the more you will learn. Before you know it, the shows will have become quite sophisticated and you will have made all the obvious mistakes which you can then learn to avoid.

What is your favourite memory of studying at Kent?
Probably my favourite memory of my time at Kent was meeting my mate Billy Childish, who had a studio in the dockyard too and taught me a lot about being a painter.

What are your plans for the future?
I’d like to create the Medway Biennial.

Who or what inspires you?
My parents.

Thanks, Matt.

You can catch the Medway Print Festival until 24th June.  Now in its 3rd year, the festival celebrates printmaking and fine art in Medway, with over 40 events and activities to showcase some of the best printmaking being created today as well as highlighting the fascinating local history of the medium. More http://medwayprintfestival.com/

original article: https://www.kent.ac.uk/smfa/news.html?view=2844 

Studio portrait by Rikard Österlund

Studio portrait by Rikard Österlund

Material Conversations

My practice has always been restricted to 2d, but for many years I have wanted to explore sculpture. For whatever reason I have not been able to find a way into doing so; I seemed to have some kind of mental block that prevented me from entering the round. As a way in, I decided to try collaborating with other artists to create sculptural work – by releasing control of the work, at least partly, I found I was able to explore this new medium and way of working. I collaborated with Adam Newton and Zara Carpenter to create work for the Sick! exhibition in 2017, and the next artist I planned to work with was Wendy Daws.

While speaking to Jane Pitt, the curator of Ideas Test in Sittingbourne I told her about the collaboration I had planned – In Wendy’s studio I discovered a piece of work she made during her degree – a sheet of rubber latex with marks imprinted into it, which I found very intriguing. I suggested we collaborate to create something similar and she was very keen – I had worked with Wendy several times previously as curator, but it would be our first time making work together. We ended up deciding to do the collaboration with Jane on board as curator –  Ideas Test have a history of working with excellent artists who make challenging and interesting work, and we all felt it would be great to make the work specifically for their space, with an element of live making also involved.

The project developed quickly and organically, and I must say the whole process, from inception to installation was absolutely effortless – which is entirely down to how comfortable and natural it was working with Wendy, and the Ideas Test team (Jane, Daisy and Jade). So here’s a little film about the making of the work, to give you a sense of how it came together. I hope you enjoy it.

Just to briefly explain the process in case the film doesn’t elucidate entirely how it was made – Wendy and I made drawings of each other over several sessions in my studio, we then collected the drawings together and traced them onto acetate with hot glue guns, so that the drawings were now 3d. We then covered the whole thing is about 6 layers of liquid latex, which once dry could be peeled off to create a semi-translucent, amber coloured sheet of rubber with the drawings engraved into the surface, allowing the light shining through it to become the drawing. The whole project was so much fun, and it was great to work with Wendy and Ideas Test, and I very much hope to do something else with them in the future.

Thank you to everyone involved, and everyone that came along to the exhibition!


photo: Matilda Flood

photo: Matilda Flood

Sick! Exhibition

This project first started 2 years ago with a conversation between myself and my very good friend Zara Carpenter. Since then we had Rikard Österlund and Xtina Lamb join us to help shape and complete our vision. We were awarded funding by Arts Council England with extra support from Medway Council.

I was the project’s curator as well as one of the 14 exhibiting artists. I submitted two pieces – a large wall painting called ‘Lux Lisbon‘ based on the movie ‘The Virgin Suicides‘ by Sofia Coppola and a group of sculptured heads that I made in collaboration with Adam Newton. I also collaborated with Zara Carpenter on her work ‘Burdened‘; the heads with Adam and the sculpture with Zara are my first foray into 3d work as well as collaborating, both of which I really enjoyed and produced great results, so I fully intend to continue to explore both of those realms in the future.

portrait by Rikard Österlund

portrait by Rikard Österlund

The exhibition comes down in a few days time (it ran for 4 weeks) and the response has been amazing! We had about 300 people come to the private view which is pretty unprecedented for the venue and for any of the projects I’ve so far been involved with, it was really great to see so many people there, and the level of engagement was also really really high compared to usual. It wasn’t just friends and family turning up to show support, there were many people there none of us knew and everyone was just glued to the work and standing in groups discussing it deeply, which was really quite moving for me to see. The experience has been totally heartening.

We hope to tour the show to other venues around the UK, so that is the next job for this project, and there will probably be other things we do under the banner of Sick! too. For more info you can check out the project blog at sickblog.co.uk