#019 – Entering the play state through collaboration

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 has an exhibition at Sun Pier House, Chatham from 10th – 26th April 2019. Check his instagram for more info.

Check out more of Matt’s artwork, exhibitions and portfolios:
mattbrayarts  mattbrayart @mattbrayarts.com