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

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

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

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

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