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Hundreds of Smileys to feature in new art exhibition by Fatboy Slim

The DJ has been inspired by the Smiley symbol for the past 40 years.

Norman Cook, better known as Fatboy Slim (Yui Mok/PA)
Norman Cook, better known as Fatboy Slim (Yui Mok/PA)

Hundreds of items from Fatboy Slim’s collection of Smiley memorabilia are to form the centrepiece of the DJ’s art exhibition.

The musician, real name Norman Cook, has spent 40 years amassing a trove of pieces featuring the iconic symbol.

They include a Smiley toaster, cuff links, watches, shoes, scales, wristbands, clocks and jewellery.

A giant mural adorns the roof of his house while his only tattoo is a smiley face and cross bones – the unofficial logo of Fatboy Slim.

He has now curated an art exhibition, Smile High Club, paying tribute to the Smiley and its creator Harvey Ball.

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Fatboy Slim’s Smiley Collection captured by British photographic artist Mark Vessey (Mark Vessey/PA)

Speaking at his home near Brighton, Cook said: “The first ever 12-inch single I bought was Psycho Killer by the Talking Heads in 1977.

“That had a picture of a Smiley t-shirt. That was the first semi-ironic use of it – it was everything that punk rock wasn’t.

“That was the first time it struck me and I think that imprinted it on my head because it was the first 12-inch single that I had and I looked at it all the time.”

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Ceramicist Carrie Reichardt has created this Smiley artwork for the show (Carrie Reichardt/PA)

The Smiley was born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1963 – the same year as Cook, now 55, himself.

Artist Harvey Ball was commissioned by the State Mutual Life Assurance Company to make badges that would improve staff morale.

After the employees began wearing the Smiley pins, the symbol became increasingly popular and more versions were printed.

“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 love,” Cook said.

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Cook’s only tattoo is a smiley face and cross bones (Flora Thompson/PA)

He said the symbol has been rediscovered by every generation, including by artists such as Banksy in his Grin Reaper piece and in the Watchmen film.

“It’s a bit like the Hawaiian shirt – it’s never quite in fashion but it always comes round again,” he said.

But he insisted today’s most commonly used representation of a smiley face – the emoji – should not be classed as a Smiley.

“What I love is the classic Worcester Smiley which has certain dimensions, slightly off-centre,” he said.

“I don’t recognise emojis as Smileys, they’re something completely different.”

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Cook with a Smiley shield by artist Jimmy Cauty (Flora Thompson/PA)

Cook had his Smiley tattoo in the late 1980s and began using a smiley face and cross bones as the logo for Fatboy Slim.

His exhibition follows collaborations with Portuguese artist Vhils, real name Alexandre Farto, who owns the Underdogs Gallery in Lisbon.

Those taking part include The London Police, Ron English, James Joyce, and Jimmy Cauty – half of The KLF who burnt £1 million in 1992.

“I’ve spent 30 years being a DJ or a musician or a producer and I’m just like a kid in a sweet shop with this,” Cook said.

“I’m a fan of art and I’m a collector but now to be involved and working with artists – I feel like we’re collaborating.

“I can’t draw and I’m colourblind, so I could never be an artist.”

The centrepiece of the exhibition is his sprawling Smiley collection, which has been painstakingly transported to Lisbon.

This will sit opposite an image of the cabinet, which has been captured by British photographic artist Mark Vessey.

“The only thing that isn’t for sale in the exhibition is my Smiley collection,” Cook said.

“In it is everything from a motorcycle helmet to condoms, to a toaster, portable ashtrays, slippers, cuff links, lighters – basically anything you can stick a Smiley on.”

Smile High Club will run at Underdogs Gallery in Lisbon from June 21 to July 21.

PA

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