Australian artist Gria Shead’s latest exhibition LA BELLE EPOQUE: Casinos and Cigars is inspired by the romance of the Belle Epoque and the opulence of casinos and cigars. Living and working in Sydney, Shead’s interior views of the Monte Carlo Casino complement paintings based on vintage cigar boxes.
Shead has primarily focused on the subject of Kate Kelly (sister of infamous Australian bushranger Ned Kelly) in previous shows, but wanted to explore the pre- war era 1871-1914 in this latest collection. “I love the BELLE EPOQUE and upon finding postcards from my grandmother who lived in Monte Carlo, I wanted to bring that era to life,” said Shead. “I have always loved cigar boxes, collecting them, appreciating their art, and using them on occasion to store paint brushes.”
Further to her decision to paint casinos and cigar box artwork was the fact that the BELLE EPOQUE was the era in which Australian impressionist artists had travelled to Europe and then returned to Australia and painted on cigar box lids their impressionist landscapes. Many of the female Australian impressionist artists were ignored during their time due to society’s perceptions of women and this drove Shead to focus on the female identity, exoticness, and luxury through this project.
Shead’s research into vintage cigar art provided an education on the history of cigar art, and she notes that vintage cigar brand La Gran Marca was one that appealed most to her. “I love the whole culture around cigars, the casino, and smoking room aesthetic. The fact that artists were (and still are) commissioned to create this wonderful cigar art made the subject even more appealing to me.” Shead is also shocked by the effect of Australia’s plain packaging. “I hate plain packaging. I find it so hard to comprehend. It’s good that health warnings exist, but as an artist I find plain packaging of cigar boxes a visual offence.”
LA BELLE EPOQUE: Casinos and Cigars
10-25 November, 2016
Nanda Hobbs Gallery, Level 1, 66 King Street, Sydney
For more information, visit nandahobbs.com