Everybody knows what a smiley face is, but few know where it comes from. The smiley face is a pop art icon that was designed by commercial artist Harvey Ball in 1963. It has been used on merchandise like t-shirts, mugs, hats and pens and it has found its way into chat messenger apps in the form of emoticons. The smiley face is sometimes used in modern art to represent innocence and happiness and now it has found its way into the subcultures of street art murals and graffiti.
Ron English is an American artist who not only creates street art, but fine art and commercial art too. His take on the smiley face design reveals a grinning skull peeking out from the smiley face’s mouth, and he’s used this design in graffiti murals, figurines, caps, pins and clothing. It’s unclear what the artist was trying to say with this idea, but the cheerful and chilling result is very eye-catching and thought-provoking. It is a reminder that the smiley face design is based on the human face, and beneath the flesh of the human face is a skull. it’s also a reminder that the smiley face is a human invention; a symbol of a concept of happiness. Below are two examples of Ron English’s smiley skull street art works:
The happy yellow smiley face found its way into chat forums and messaging apps originally as a sideways smiley face made out of a colon and bracket (: but later the developers of these apps started including tiny images of faces based on the yellow smiley face. The bonus of using the smiley face was that it could be used to demonstrate human emotions without portraying a particular gender or race, so it could be used by anyone, anywhere in the world and be understood by anyone, anywhere in the world. In many ways, emojis like the smiley face have become a kind of modern hieroglyphic that can be understood internationally. It is a form of global communication that doesn’t rely on a person’s knowledge of another language.
It seems like no matter how deformed the smiley face becomes, we can still recognize it as our happy face, the one that humanity has laid claim to as the global symbol of happiness. Sometimes, artists choose to transform the smiley emoticon into a being that is getting joy out of something bizarre and perhaps even a little inhuman. But we can still relate to these twisted versions of happiness because there’s nothing in life that is purely joyful. There is always a little bit of tarnish on the shiny happy moments, and these artists have captured the imperfection of life wonderfully in these outrageous street art paintings:
By: Streets on Art