In 2011, graphic designer Lee Goater printed a series of small faces on to polaroid sized magnets and distributed them around Europe. He has since released a Faces app, prints and merchandise, and launched two exhibitions – one of which, a collaboration with Barcelona studio Hey, is on display at the city’s Mitte Gallery until 30 May.
Faces is a self-initiated project that Goater describes as part self-promotion, part responsible street-art. “I had never made business cards and was thinking of ways to promote my work when I thought, ‘why not make little magnets?'” he says. “I used to do a lot of street art and liked the idea of making a physical, viral thing that people could find and take away.”
Goater made eight faces to begin with – a series of simple but charming male and female designs reflecting various age groups and cultures. Soon after he posted them around his hometown of Shipley, and further afield, people started to find and tweet about them. “People got really into it, especially near where I live, and started going on missions to find them,” he says.
As the Faces became popular, Goater created more designs and in October last year, launched a Faces exhibition at Leeds Gallery. Titled Anatomy of Autonomy, the show was described as a reflection on our sense of self and how others see us. Around the same time, Goater launched an app, Make a Face, which lets people create, save and share faces on social media.
“I’d never made an app before, but it turned out to be a really nice vehicle for the Faces. It’s great to see the different combinations people come up with – there are probably millions of different options,” says Goater. The faces have also been printed on t-shirts and tea towels and made into a free font, which you can download here.
As well as Faces prints and merchandise, Goater’s latest show at Mitte includes interactive prints which visitors can customise and a series of artworks featuring his faces alongside colourful characters designed by Hey Studio. He has also updated the Make a Face app with Spanish and Catalan additions.
Hey and Goater first discussed a joint exhibition after meeting at Manchester event BCNMCR last year. “I liked the idea of them injecting some colour into my black and white work, especially for a show in a city as vibrant and colourful as Barcelona,” says Goater.
“After discussing a few ideas, they suggested using these characters alongside the Faces and it worked really well – mine don’t have bodies, and Hey’s don’t have faces, so in a way they’re a perfect match,” he adds.