Smile! The graphic designer turned street artist “asking people to look at themselves”

Based in north west London, for the past few years Smile has been created large printed posters and pasting them across the walls of the capital. Each bears a message addressing themes including “individual rights, personal responsibility, respect for nature and the environment and a warning against the destructive forces of greed, intolerance, arrogance and hubris,” he says. His name is drawn from those scenarios when you’re cheerily asked to “smile” even after being scalded, or following a traumatic situation: “it indicates a sense of control, like ‘you WILL smile, whatever we do.’”

Smile, poster

Smile’s street art work was initially created using stencils, and took a more “whimsical” approach. It shifted into slightly darker territory when he realised that “if you’re going to make work to put on the street, you have to be saying something,” he says. “It has to have a certain depth.” One of his first pieces was created at the tail end of 2015 as a “special Christmas greeting to our glorious world leaders,” thanking them for “yet another year of mayhem, economic misery, terror and hate.” Little did he know, things were about to take a turn for the worse.

“A lot of the things I was saying have not only come true but been surpassed in a fashion you couldn’t have conceived of even a few years ago,” he says. “I write down hundreds of these sort of phrases in notebooks every day but by the time they’re printed some of the thoughts are out of date before I even made the poster, even though they’re often philosophical ideas.”

Smile’s posters are usually printed on huge A0 scale, and are characterised by their use of the stately Albertus typeface, chosen for its “hardcore Roman vibes” and its “very English feel,” he says. He added extra serifs and dot-like symbols to many of the characters to create an almost religious, gothic aesthetic. “They’ve got a very ominous quality,” says Smile. Wood type printing, Victorian masonic stamps and hand-drawn typography are also used across a number of the designs.

Smile, poster

Many of the posters depict historical figures from the psychology or philosophy spheres, including Italian philosopher and monk Giordano Bruno, novelist Ayn Rand, engineer Nikola Tesla, Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, writer George Orwell and the co-creator of 1960s TV series The Prisoner, Patrick McGoohan. According to Smile, each of these characters represent “the individual against a malignant system.” Psychology and history play a huge role in his viewpoints and the work he makes accordingly: “fundamentally what I’m asking people to do is look at themselves,” he says. “Someone like Giordano Bruno is a brilliant symbol for me about what my work represents: freedom of speech and the idea that people don’t always want to face or hear things. That’s why psychology trumps politics every time.”

He adds, “if you are already taking a closer look at how you behave towards yourself, others, nature and the environment, then my work will resonate with you and hopefully encourage you to keep seeking the truth through your own personal exploration.”

However, on a more optimistic note, his work also aims to encompass a message of “hope,” and to “entertain, comfort and inspire the viewer.”

Smile, poster

This is most evident in Smile’s new screen-printed poster, No More Anger. No More Hatred, printed by London-based Coriander Studio and currently being funded on this Kickstarter page. “The artwork asks the viewer to look within themselves and to give themselves the peace of mind they deserve, which in turn can then be manifested outside of themselves in the world,” says Smile.