Aaron Kasmin: Up in Smoke

17 May 2017 – 9 Jun 2017

Event times

10am - 6pm

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Sims Reed Gallery

England, United Kingdom

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Sims Reed Gallery presents Up in Smoke by British artist Aaron Kasmin. Inspired by American feature matchbooks, the exhibition showcases 28 new pencil drawings, which celebrate and pay homage to the glitz and glamour of the post-prohibition era.


This spring Sims Reed Gallery (SRG) presents Up in Smoke by British artist Aaron Kasmin. Following the success of Lucky Strike, Kasmin’s previous show at SRG, the artist is hosting a second exhibition inspired by American feature matchbooks. The exhibition showcases twenty-eight new pencil drawings, which celebrate and pay homage to the glitz and glamour of the post-prohibition era.

Larger in scale and more simplified than the artist’s drawings in Lucky Strike, Kasmin focuses on details of single matchbooks from the late 1920s to the early 1960s, staying true to their graphics and depicting a more expansive range of themes. Ranging from fashion and yachting to restaurants and nightclubs, Kasmin offers a nostalgic glimpse into a bygone era, when the promotion of alcohol was far more lenient and smoking was seen to be chic. In conjunction with the drawings, a selection of the artist’s own vintage matchbook collection is also on display.

Kasmin began collecting Lion Match Company’s matchbooks several years ago, inspired by the lively and inventive images that reflect the rise of America’s consumer culture, originally mass-produced for advertising purposes. The humble matchbook soon became the most effective advertising medium in America, which was embraced by almost every industry. Kasmin subsequently decided to turn them into an art form in their own right, giving the little-known ephemera the attention they deserved, whilst paying homage to the original artists who remain unknown.

Using carbothello pencils Kasmin methodically works from left to right, building up detailed A4 and A5 sized renderings, predominantly using primary colours. The resulting images have a stencil-like quality that incorporate the matches into the images. Highlights include Vogue, 2017 – lipstick; Bottoms Up, 2016, lady drinking a cocktail; Mayflower Hotel, 2016 – Cape Cod beach; Jacques, 2016 – French restaurant in Chicago; Ireland's Oyster House, 2016 – fish and lobster bar; Lincoln Arcade, 2017 – ten pin bowling, all of which conjure up the golden age of Hollywood through their bursts of bold colour and stylish designs. Up in Smoke celebrates a slice of Americana, transporting viewers into the worlds created by famed authors, poets and singers of the time.

“These new works reflect a joint celebration of the joy of collecting and creating works inspired by the sheer inventiveness and genius of feature matchbooks.

The matchbooks are small, ephemeral and almost forgotten; the ingenuity of the imagery in what must be the golden age of graphic design is here in minute form.  To me they conjure up the glamour of early to mid-twentieth century American life.  The glitz inherent in nightclubs and bars hark back to the post-prohibition era with movie stars and opulent parties evoked and captured in the novels of Scott Fitzgerald and Raymond Chandler, and re-created in the nostalgic films of Woody Allen.”

  Aaron Kasmin

All works in Up in Smoke are available to buy, ranging in price from £850 – £2,000. The exhibition is accompanied by an e-catalogue.

Aaron Kasmin 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 and oil paint, but his preferred method is chalk pencils: “you can mix colours together endlessly and they can be used very finely for detail. With paint it would all be far too fussy, drawing is a much more immediate medium”, says Kasmin.   

SRG has led successful exhibitions of some of the finest and most innovative modern, post-war and contemporary printmakers including Allen Jones, Richard Estes, Bridget Riley, Frank Stella, Bruce Nauman, Alex Katz, Sol LeWitt, Allen Jones, David Hockney, Peter Doig, Fred Sandback and Henry Moore.

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