RAYMOND HAINS AND THE ART OF MATCHES
The French visual artist who used matches as art
October 06, 2022
Though now self-proclaimed phillumenists, we have only come to discover a few years ago how matchbook design in the 20th century has also extended well beyond the realm of advertising and the standard 2x2 inches framework, having reached other industries and even larger dimensions in both art and fashion.
One prime example of this is visual artist Raymond Hains, who has been one of those central figures in post-war French art who playfully borrowed from everyday life what he ultimately thought could be translated into an artistic universe made of visual and metaphorical representations.
For a very short time, Hains joined artists Yves Klein, Jean Tinguely and his friend Jacques Villeglé as a founding member of Nouveau Réalisme, the French counterpart to American Pop Art established in the 1960s, which sought to reshape the relationship between art and life.
Having always been interested in plays on language, Hains utilized in his work seemingly trivial objects like matchbooks in order to reflect on critical themes of the emerging consumer culture of his time. He became so inspired by Swedish-American Pop artist Claes Oldenburg's art presented at the 1964 Venice Biennale, that he began the production of oversized matchbooks and match-like sculptures which were ultimately shown at Galleria del Leone in Venice for the first time during that same year.
Raymond Hains, Seita, 2005, bronze 257 x 50 x 50 cm.; 101 1/8 x 19 3/4 x 19 3/4 in. edition 2 of 8, plus 4 AP
Raymond Hains, Saffa, 1971, lacquered wood, sandpaper, 98.5 x 95 x 11.5 cm.; 38 3/4 x 37 3/8 x 4 1/2 inches
Hains' matchbook series were conceived as both free-standing and wall-hanging objects, challenging traditional forms of sculpture and painting, and were named after acronyms of two major French and Italian tobacco and match companies at the time: Saffa and Seita — which he started presenting in his numerous exhibitions as two fictional artist characters for which he pretended to function as an agent, signing works in their name. Saffa created reproductions of matchboxes produced by the Italian tobacco company SAFFA. His French partner, Seita, only reproduced the French matchboxes produced by SEITA.
By humorously splitting his artistic persona into two fictional characters and assuming two different identities, Hains questioned the role and status of the artist within society. His choice of trivial objects such as matchbooks allowed him to inflate the everyday into artistic form, humorously turning the mundane into art through the exploration of consumer goods.
Raymond Hains, Saffa, circa 1966-8, signed, unique painted wood multiple, 45 x 33 3/8 x 2½ in. (1143 x 848 x 61 mm.)
Hains' values of connecting the traditions of fine art with popular culture accompanied the artist throughout his entire artistic career, so much so that his matchbook series was featured in the September issue of Life Magazine in 1966. The cover was dedicated to the latest "pop" creations made by French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and the models used in the photo shoot posed alongside Raymond Hains' latest work while wearing black jersey dresses with colorful mod patterns — a tribute to the art of renowned American Pop artist Tom Wesselmann.