Not much can take us by surprise in 2019 but we have to admit that the news that cheeky dance music aficionado Fatboy Slim is set to be jetting off to Lisbon to oversee an exhibition of smiley memorabilia did catch us a little off guard.
The story begins back in 1963. While an infant by the name of Quentin Leo Cook was trying to make sense of like in the Sussex town of Reigate, American artist and designer Harvey Ball was grappling with how to improve the morale of staff at State Mutual Life Assurance Company, Worcester, Massachusetts.
Ball eventually alighted upon what was to become one of the most enduring symbols of the latter half of the 20th century: a big, bright, and suitably silly face.
The work that he completed for just $45 would go on to sell all sorts of tat, find itself adopted by the nascent acid house movement by pie-eyed-loved-up ravers in disused airhangers by the M25, and instil within little Leo – who’d go on to find fame in Hull-based indie band The Housemartins before embarking on a long and fruitful career in clubbing – a lifelong obsession that’s culminating in this week’s exhibition, Smile High Club.
Featuring everything from toasters to cuff links via posters, wristbands, and clocks, the exhibition showcases what The Guardian allege is “possibly the largest collection of smiley ephemera in the world.”
Talking to the paper, Cook, who jettisoned Quentin in favour of Norman at some point before he began his steady rise to fame, says of the smiley: “Over the years it has elevated from 200 badges made for an insurance company to this worldwide icon and this symbol of, what is for me, happiness, goofiness, stupidity and unconditional life.”
Running at Lisbon’s Underdogs Gallery 21 June – 21 July, Fatboy Slim isn’t the only smiley-superfan showing off their appreciation for Ball’s charmingly colourful character at the show. He’s invited the likes of The KLF’s Jimmy Cauty and James Joyce (the designer, not the language-swallowing Irish writer of note) along for the ride, too.
Fun fact: one current member of the It’s Nice That editorial team interviewed Norman at his rather nice house right on Brighton beach. He keeps his awards – and there are a lot of them – in the toilet. And smileys everywhere.