Your Village: What are those huge faces along I-80 in Iowa City?

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Monday, July 9, 2018. — photo by Zak Neumann

What is the deal with the huge billboard-size faces that look like Will Ferrell, Ed Helms, and another actress that are located along I-80 Eastbound between the Dubuque street exit and Herbert Hoover highway exit? — Cleo, Iowa City, via the Your Village feature on LV’s homepage.

The faces may look like they belong to Will Ferrell, Ed Helms (Mitt Romney is another popular guess) and an actress no one can quite remember, but they don’t. The faces — Befuddled Guy, Angry Guy and Disappointed Gal, to use their official names — belong to friends of John Cerney, the California-based artist who created the installation in 2010.

Cerney calls himself a muralist, whose murals aren’t confined to walls.

“The more barren the landscape, the better,” Cerney told Little Village, when asked how he chooses the sites of his murals. Emoticons along I-80 in Iowa City is one of five free-standing Cerney murals in Iowa. All are large (the one in Ames, which is visible from I-35, that features two 18-foot-tall farmers talking is actually called Giant Corn Farmers) and eye-catching.

“For the average person who is driving down the road — their mind is on something else — my artwork sort of hits in you the– sort of blindsides you,” Cerney said. “It doesn’t make sense a lot of time, and that’s OK. It’s got to shake up your world for a moment, and make you wonder: ‘Why is that there? Am I missing something? Are they selling something?’”

Cerney’s artwork in a western Iowa town led to him placing the three 12-foot-high faces, made up of 12-square-inch plywood panels, in Iowa City.

“I was approached by a writer from Iowa City, Eric Jones, who wanted to include a mural I’d done in Dunlap, Iowa, in his book, Iowa Curiosities,” Cerney said. Cerney agreed and the two remained in touch.

Cerney often works through an informal network of friends when seeking locations for the murals that he donates to communities.

“I approached [Jones] and asked if he knew of a home,” Cerney said. “I was looking for a piece of land beside a highway.”

Jones got in touch with Doug Paul, an Iowa City artist, who owned a piece of land by a highway. Emoticons had a home.

Monday, July 9, 2018. — photo by Zak Neumann

Cerney has no current plans to place another work of art in Iowa, but he does hope to visit Iowa City in the near future.


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“I understand there’s a little bit of damage on Angry Man, and I’m going to try to fix that when I can,” he said.

For the record, the Ferrell-ish face belongs to Dave Diamond, Jeff Hitchcock’s face reminds people of either Ed Helms or Mitt Romney, and Liz Andrus isn’t an actress, which is why no one can remember what movie she was in.

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