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No Ifs, Ands or Butts About It: He's Made Smoking a Big Thing

April 23, 1986|STEVE HARVEY | Times Staff Writer

Sensing a need for a dramatic anti-smoking symbol, sculptor Steven Simon rolled his own.

He fashioned an 11-foot, 100-pound likeness of a cigarette from 35,000 discarded packs--gold-colored ones for the three-foot-long filter tip, red ones for the foot-long lit end.

The project took six years--or about 7 million puffs, depending on how you measure it.

"I call it assemblage art," Simon, 27, said recently in his house near Universal City. "I got the idea for this project after my grandfather died of lung cancer. (He) smoked till the day he died."

The sculpture lay next to Simon on his living room floor. It looked as though someone had tried to stub it out.

"Yeah, it's not really bright red (on the end)," he admitted. "That's from dragging it around between here and my workshop. But I think a real cigarette looks that way, kind of ashen."

Wants Sculpture for Exhibit

So far, no museums have tried to bum it off Simon. But Ron Arias, a spokesman for the American Lung Assn., said that his organization wants to use the king-size sculpture in its "Kiss Your Butt Goodbye" campaign, perhaps in an exhibit at the Los Angeles County Fair.

Simon is so enthused that he's offered to give away the sculpture to any individual or corporation that donates $50,000 to the lung association.

In the meantime, he's hauled his giant cigarette into public only once.

Recently, he placed it in a king-size holder that he built on the roof of his car, and drove to Century City to see what kind of reaction it would elicit during the lunch hour.

"It was weird to see people smoking and watching it," he said.

Inasmuch as Simon's weed has no slash mark across it to make the no-smoking message clear, how does he know it won't give some smokers the urge to light up?

"I've printed up anti-smoking literature that I'll hand out when it's on display," he said. "Plus, it will carry the title, 'Death of a Friend.' "

Cards to Celebrities

As another facet of his no-smoking campaign, Simon is mailing out hundreds of cards bearing a photo of his work to such celebrities as Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Henry Kissinger, Willie Mays, Tiny Tim and Imelda Marcos, requesting a donation to the lung association from each.

Of the latter, he said: "Who knows, she might be in a good mood on a Thursday and send $20,000?"

A nonsmoker all his life, Simon estimates that he spent "a few hundred dollars" for the contents of his sculpture (a length of pipe in the center of the cigarette and hot-melt glue to hold the thousands of packs together), as well as "hundreds of hours of labor."

As for the main material, he arranged for more than 50 smokers to hand over their empty packs. But he told them that he would accept the discards only in quantities of two or more full shopping bags.

"Seven people that I know of quit smoking when they realized what they were doing to their bodies," he said.

Aquarium in Cadillac

Simon, whose next project is the construction of an aquarium in the back of his 1961 Cadillac ("so I can take my fish to see Marineland"), had several other works on display in his living room, including a bronze pine cone and a piece titled, "Colorado River Worms."

His 11-foot cigarette lay alongside a blue receptacle-type sculpture.

An ashtray, perhaps?

"No, that's titled 'Blue Lagoon,' " Simon said. "However, for the right donation (to the lung association), I'll make an ashtray for someone, too."

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