Remember a time when smoking was seriously, no-holds-barred glamorous? Whether you lived it or not, the images form part of a collective nostalgia, of America in particular–of old-school Hollywood and F.Scott Fitzgerald, of cocktail hours and luxurious post-prohibition nightlife. London-born artist Aaron Kasmin relishes this world, exploring the miniature artworks from early- to mid- twentieth century matchbooks for his drawings. Lucky Strike opens this Friday at London’s Sims Reed Gallery.
Can you tell us a little about the work that will be shown in Lucky Strike?
The work I am showing is all inspired by my collection of American feature matchbooks which had their heyday from the 1930s to the 1950s. I have been collecting these matchbooks for a number of years and have managed to integrate them in to my work. The subject matter is incredibly diverse, ranging from advertising laundry services, bakers, kitchen outfitters, paint shops and restaurants to nightclubs. What the companies found, was that by handing out beautifully designed little matchbooks people would take them home and keep them, thereby having permanent advertising in the home. The beauty of these objects is that the designers came up with so many creative ideas, like making the matchsticks paint brushes and the striking part a blob of paint, or the match a chef with his hat as the striker.
What is it about post-prohibition and mid-twentieth century America that interests you—and was there a particular work or object that first prompted you to explore this imagery?
I love the way these small ephemeral objects portray American life and the perceived glamour of its time. Smoking and drinking were represented as cool and sophisticated–these match books remind me of the novels of Raymond Chandler and of films starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. They could easily be found in Some Like It Hot! I just wanted to celebrate these little master works and bring them to a wider, new audience. I am excited that I am able to exhibit some of my collection alongside my drawings.
Do you feel this sense of design has been somewhat lost in recent years?
I think that graphics represent the era they are a part of, especially ephemera. There are many great designers working now and I think people should celebrate ephemera through all times.
Did you begin working in pencil as a response to the source material, or has this always been a favoured medium?
I am fundamentally an abstract artist, but have had quite a few shows recently of still life drawings. I love working with chalk pencils because you can mix the colours with a high degree of sophistication. The effect of these pencils seems to evoke a beautiful vintage quality.
You’ll be showing alongside Nicholas Chandor’s furniture. What was behind the decision to display your works together?
We wanted to create an ambience in the gallery that reflects the atmosphere conjured by these matchbooks. Nicholas Chandor is designing mid-twentieth century inspired furniture to complement the style of the drawings and really transport the gallery back to America in the 50s.
Lucky Strike runs 22 January until 5 February 2016 at Sims Reed Gallery, London