Post-prohibition America retains an effortless sense of style. The optimistic decadence and the illicit thrill of free-flowing alcohol as immortalised in Fitzgerald novels and Woody Allen films seems far removed from our modern world of austerity measures and cigarette packet health warnings. Aaron Kasmin’s pencil drawings offer an escape into a time when smoking was considered chic and various hotels, bars and restaurants flogged their wares via miniature artworks that their patrons could take away with them.
From Dada and the Surrealists to Pop Art and beyond, artists have long explored the role of advertising in their work, and whether or not good advertising is an art form, or indeed, to what extent art is advertising, has beleaguered inquisitive minds since the birth of the media industry. Kasmin believes that the links between art and advertising have “become a two-way relationship, and serve both in new and creative ways”. Through his Up in Smoke series, he aims to “celebrate the incredible draughtsmanship, graphic skills and endlessly inventive ideas, created on such a small scale”.
There is something deeply pleasing about nostalgia in miniature form, and part of the appeal of Kasmin’s work is the personal journey attached to each drawing. A selection of his own vintage matchbooks are on display with the illustrations as part of a new exhibition at Sims Reed Gallery, which prompts the viewer to wonder about the establishments emblazoned on the matches, and imagine the journey a Zelda Fitzgerald-type might have taken them on, perhaps tucked beneath an ostentatious fur or in a beaded handbag.
The re-appropriation of images from a bygone era into contemporary artworks makes an interesting comment on the way iconic cultural images prevail through generations, forming part of collective memory. In a time of frenetic smartphones, tablets and computer screens, there’s something comforting in the preservation of tangible objects. Can you imagine an advert so aesthetically pleasing that you would want to keep it in your coat pocket? “People took such pleasure in the matchbook images that they would keep them and then the advert stayed with them subliminally,” says Kasmin. “I can’t really see the appeal of destroying them, and that’s why so many survived intact. Although,” he warns, “we all know what happens when you can’t find a match.”
Up in Smoke by Aaron Kasmin will be on display at Sims Reed Gallery, London from May 17 – June 9, 2017.