Visuals of Sad Faces and Downturned Mouths

I was in Venice last week for my birthday, staying on the Lido. On a visit to the mainland I photographed a section of a shop window that caught my eye:

On the left, the mask has a downturned mouth. On the right the face has big bushy white eyebrows and deep grooves chiselled in visible skin but a surgical mask has been added, covering the mouth area. It is a mask upon a mask – the ubiquitous mascherina placed on a maschera.

I was wondering about the origins of the downturned mouth in representation and discovered something called a were-jaguar, an ancient pre-Christian Olmec deity. However, as far as I understand the mouth did not connote sadness or melancholy, which the sad face emoji with its upside down smile is used to signify.

In terms of my own photography the first image I took of a sad face emoticon was back in 2009 – seen in the window of the Zavvi Entertainment Megastore in London, which closed for business:

I have since blogged about Melancholy Graffiti in Tel Aviv focussing on a series of graffiti I encountered featuring simple child like figures with downturned mouths. This was back in 2014; here are a couple of updates to the images in that post.

Seen in Tel Aviv, 2015:

And more recently, from 2019, also taken in Tel Aviv. I like the combination of the graffiti and the classic but worn Middle Eastern architectural details and vibrant blue colour:

In my travels I have come across more sad face graffiti, like this tree stump in New York in 2016, I remember that it coincided with the end of my trip so seemed symbolic as I wasn’t ready to leave, though the actual intention of the graffiti may refer to the emotion of witnessing the chopped down tree:

In London’s Hampstead Heath – a grumpy, sad face badge with additional hand written text saying Be Happy Let Go on a tree trunk:

The following photographs include references to tears and crying. In terms of Art History, the most iconic paintings I can think of that include representations of crying are Picasso’s portraits of artist Dora Maar weeping. In the self-portrait below taken using the Photo Booth app on a Mac computer, I was documenting myself in a state of upset. The image dates from ten years ago – early September 2010:

Next, two photos taken on a rainy day in Highgate, at the temporary shrine created outside the late George Michael’s house following his death on Christmas Day, 2016. These images were taken in January 2017, some two weeks after his death:

Flower tributes flanking George Michael’s car; the vehicle itself is adorned with messages, hearts, a large glitter letter G and a large crying emoji sticker:

Finally a couple of recent images, taken emerging from lockdown. Firstly at the traffic lights near my home I saw that someone had painted a blue sad face at the stop sign:

I was browsing in a designer store in Percy Street where I noticed the sales assistant’s blue and yellow nail art which had both smiley and sad face emoji. I like the combination and duality – the span of emotion signified through colour and emoji:

2 thoughts on “Visuals of Sad Faces and Downturned Mouths”

  1. I will always think of you, and your images and words whenever I see a turned down smile. I will think very much about the story that led to the turn down. Wonderful!


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