This autumn Sims Reed Gallery presents Always a Show by British artist Aaron Kasmin, from 16 September – 28 October 2021. Following the success of Lucky Strike (2016), Up in Smoke (2017) and Showtime! (2019), the artist is hosting his fourth exhibition at the gallery inspired by recent American feature matchbook discoveries. The exhibition showcases twenty-nine new pencil drawings created during lockdowns, which portray vibrant scenes from the postprohibition era.
In comparison to his previous shows, Kasmin has chosen to focus on a broader range of topics in more detail, with themes ranging from bars and restaurants, clothing brands and diamonds, to horse racing, cars and the Oscars. What draws him to the matchbooks is the rich source of subject matter, which provides endless inspiration. He says, “It’s both a challenge and an exciting task to find new ones that aesthetically fit my artistic aspirations. Knowing there are so many more matchbooks out there gives me momentum, inspiring me to explore and develop further.” After discovering Lion Match Company’s matchbooks several years ago, Kasmin set about creating his own collection.
He sees them as “wonderful pieces of cultural and social history. The ‘matchbook’ is an object that marks the rise of America’s consumer culture when advertising was still a fairly modern and exciting construction.” The little-known ephemera were originally mass-produced for advertising purposes. They were considered objects to be used and discarded, rather than appreciated for their dynamic design and artistic qualities. His lifelong passion for cinema led him to engage with the classic and stereotypical depictions of early to mid-twentieth century America, echoed in the lively and inventive images adorned on the matchbooks. Motivated by his ever-growing collection, he decided to turn them into an art form in their own right, providing a nostalgic glimpse into the dynamism of a bygone era.
During a time when it has not been possible to travel, he found “the matchbooks foreign and exciting depictions a great source of inspiration, allowing my mind to wander to exotic places.” When selecting new subject matter he was drawn to the most dynamic and original matchbooks in both colour and themes, which he imbues with his own artistic freedom. Using carbothello pencils he methodically works from left to right, building up detailed A4 and A5 sized renderings over the course of a few days, predominantly using primary colours. The resulting images have a stencil-like quality that incorporates the matches into the images.
Highlights include Leon & Eddie’s – a snapshot of a dance scene at a legendary nightclub in the 1930s-40s that began life as a speakeasy; The Bel Air – a singer takes to the stage for a captive audience, depicted against an abstract chequered background; The Winners Enclosure – a glimpse into the winning enclosure at the horse races, and Metropolis – a bold, architectural design reminiscent of the Chicago cityscape.
Aaron Kasmin (b. 1963) is a British contemporary artist based in London. He studied at the Chelsea School of Art in London and has exhibited in New York, Paris and London. He works with watercolour, oil paint and chalk pencils, preferring pencils for these drawings, “as with paint it would all be too fussy – drawing is a much more immediate medium,” says Kasmin.