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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:

Ron English reminds us that the smiley face emoticon is based on a human face by showing a grinning human skull peeking out of the yellow smiley’s mouth in this colorful street art mural. The skull is painted in a semi-realistic way, which is a bold contrast to the rest of the cartoonish mural painting. [source]

 

The Mona Lisa has appeared in street art yet again in this huge and brightly colored wall mural by street artist Ron English

The Mona Lisa has appeared in street art yet again in this huge and brightly colored wall mural by street artist Ron English. The Mona Lisa is a painting by Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci that is hundreds of years old. The smiley face icon is only a few decades old, so this street art work is a combination of old and new art styles and imagery. [source]

 

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.

Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel painting of God reaching out to man has been changed to God reaching out to a series of emoticons in this creative and funny street art mural

Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel painting of God reaching out to man has been changed to God reaching out to a series of emoticons in this creative and funny street art mural. The artist, Caiozzama, has replicated the colors and shading of Michelangelo’s painting style perfectly, contrasting it beautifully with the areas of flat color and bold shapes of the modern emoticon style. [source]

 

Street artist and musician Airborne Mark has painted a graffiti wall mural of a crumpled piece of paper with a giant winking kissy face emoji on it

Street artist and musician Airborne Mark has painted a graffiti wall mural of a crumpled piece of paper with a giant winking kissy face emoji on it. The artist has positioned his mural well because it lines up in such a way that the older graffiti character of the surprised cat looks like it is looking straight at the kissy face emoticon and reacting to it. Perhaps this is exactly why Airborne Markd decided to choose this spot for his urban art work. [source]

 

Italian street muralist has transformed smiley faces and emoticons to create graffiti letters that spell out his nickname

Italian street muralist Etsom has transformed smiley faces and emoticons to create graffiti letters that spell out his nickname. [source]

 

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:

Street artist VILE has chosen a rounded surface for this crazy drooling happy face graffiti art work

Street artist VILE has chosen a rounded surface for this crazy drooling happy face graffiti art work. This smiley face has a gross and oversized mouth filled with gnashing teeth and pouring drool all over the ground. [source]

 

Belgian street artist Filip Bosmans has used a smiley face at the centre of this pop surrealism graffiti mural, though the happy face doesn't look like it's going to be happy for long

Belgian street artist Filip Bosmans has used a smiley face at the centre of this pop surrealism graffiti mural, though the happy face doesn’t look like it’s going to be happy for long. The natural bird, perhaps representing true and organic human emotions, has smashed through the smiley face, maybe a symbol of fake smiles and fake happiness, and sliced it into pieces, having flown through it like the whirling blade of a blender. [source]

 

Muralist Insane 51 hasn't transformed the smiley face in this big wall painting, but rather, the smiling man's sadism is the result of his personality being deformed

Muralist Insane 51 hasn’t transformed the smiley face in this big wall painting, but rather, the smiling man’s sadism is the result of his personality being deformed so that he enjoys destroying happiness and joy in the world. [source]


By: Streets on Art