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Striking images Inspiration for matchbook art started accidentally for one Lehighton native

  • al zagofsky/special to the times news "I take packs of matches and reinvent them into pretty much anything I can come up with in my imagination, explains Damian DeGiosio. "I call them Matchbook Inventions."
    al zagofsky/special to the times news "I take packs of matches and reinvent them into pretty much anything I can come up with in my imagination, explains Damian DeGiosio. "I call them Matchbook Inventions."
Published September 25. 2010 09:00AM

Tourists strolling the streets of Jim Thorpe's Historic District stop along the sidewalk outside the Strange Brew Coffee Shop to watch a young man create striking images - art from matchbooks.

Damian DeGiosio, a native of Lehighton, returned to Carbon County after a nomadic existence for most of his 30 years. As an "Air Force brat," who moved with his family as his father was frequently redeployed, DeGiosio still continues to live here and there, and he's able to support himself chiefly by designing matchbook art, one of the few art forms that is easy to carry.

"The small size of my matchbook art is an advantage for both me and my customers," said DeGiosio. "It's easy for me to carry hundreds of matchbooks.

"I take packs of matches and reinvent them into pretty much anything I can come up with in my imagination. I call them Matchbook Inventions. It's kind of just changing the shape of an envelope, I guess. Everybody can relate to a pack of matches."

DeGiosio, a mixed-media artist, one day found himself absent-mindedly playing with a book of matches.

"It started as an accident," he said. "I was playing with a pack of matches, ripping parts and striking matches."

Then, he began sketching. The cardboard surface became his easel on which he plied his ink, paint and collage. He began cutting and shaping the matchsticks to resemble buildings.

Inspired by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, DeGiosio's first Matchbook Invention used shaped matchsticks to depict the skyscrapers of New York City. The scene is in black with the two tallest matchsticks painted gray.

"A plane is flying towards the towers (matches), which I strike afterwards," DeGiosio said. "It creates a a dialog about what happened that day."

"Everybody understands a pack of matches," he said. "Then what happens is open to the observer."

DeGiosio created several 9/11 pieces.

"For me, personally, it's matches going up in flames. Matches can't light themselves," he explained.

Matchstick art has an intriguing three-dimensional quality. Matchbooks have four levels: the bent-over lip of the cover that forms the striking surface, two rows of matches, and the inside of the cover.

When they are closed, paintings can be made on the front and rear portions of the cover. So, for instance, matchsticks can be clipped to different lengths to resemble buildings of varying heights in the landscape.

DeGiosio discovered matchbook art in 2002. He began to seriously explore the medium in 2006.

"I like that they are easily relatable to people," he noted. "I like the sense of communal artwork."

Sensing that the nature of matchbooks innately conveys a sense of doom and destruction, DeGiosio created a series of matchbooks depicting the burning of the Crystal Palace, the San Francisco Earthquake, and the sinking of the Titanic.

"I have a fascination with the sea and boats," he said. "I don't know why. Especially, ships that have been taken by the sea - this mighty force. When you think how much of the world is water, it makes me feel unimportant. I have a thing with ships going down. It may be morbid. It is what it is."

Not all of DeGiosio's sea themes are dark. One matchbook depicts a WWII battle fought in Sicily. Another is of a tugboat-reminiscent of the mighty tugs he watched as he sat and painted in Lower Manhattan's Battery Park.

"Matchbook art is something fun that I like doing," DeGiosio said. "I find them original. I find them unique. I'm a person of found objects. Objects can tell a story."

DeGiosio is currently working on a storybook illustrated with his matchbooks.

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