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Behind the mystery of the street smiley face mosaics

Have you stumbled upon these mysterious mosaics that have popped up around town, filling former potholes?

Smiley Face mosaic covering a pothole

An art mystery we can all smile at.

Photo by NOOGAtoday

Have you noticed smiley face mosaics covering former potholes on our streets around Chattanooga?

Back in April, we went on a mission to discover the artist behind this mysterious piece that popped up in the Highland Park neighborhood (shout out to reader Mason E. for putting it on our radar). And in the words of our local art community — think of this individual as the city’s newest Banksy.

To put a smile on your face, we did discover who the artist was — and just like the art community, that’s a secret we’ll never tell — but we can share an inside look of their process + why they’re filling potholes.

This artist, who had a life within the professional medical field, discovered their love of mosaics when traveling to Singapore years ago + finding a market full of discarded tiles. While they created mosaics on different materials, the smiley faces came as a direct result of having three flat tires from potholes in the three years they’ve lived in Chattanooga.

The artist also gave a nod to other creatives, stating that filling potholes wasn’t unprecedented, giving the example of a Chicago artist.

 Smiley Face Mosaics

The design was chosen due to having a surplus of yellow + black tiles (plates were also originally used) + for an easy and graphic piece.

Photo provided by @potholes_of_chattanooga

How does our artist do it? They keep a running list of potholes they see and choose the best times to go out with a cone and vest to be unidentified + safe from car travel on busier roads. By creating the smiley face design at home, first using mosaic mounting mesh to hold it together, it takes roughly 10 minutes to pour in the concrete and set the artwork in place.

The first-ever mystery mosaic-filled pothole was made on Union Avenue + South Hickory Street in the early hours of Easter Sunday this year. Now, there are ~27 smiley faces around town, not only in an effort to fix the roads, but to brighten up someone’s day.

“I just want them to have a little smile in the corner of their mouth and go ‘ooh’ before moving on with their day,” they said. “I just want them to have a nuanced awareness that it’s okay to smile.”

Wanting to keep the mystery alive? Follow the artist’s Instagram. Bonus: Go on your own scavenger hunt with this map.

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