Art Historians, fans of the .gif, and anyone who just likes seeing historical people come to life in absurd ways has probably bumped into the work of James Kerr. His animated .gifs of Northern Renaissance art have been making the rounds for over a year now and continue to delight. Jesus on a motorcycle? Absolutely. Hot dog eating priests? Plenty of nudity of the Benny Hill kind. Popes, nuns, Adam and Eve, hermits… they’re all put to Kerr’s mighty imagination. Who knew the stiff paintings of holy high rollers could be so much fun? He recently joined forces with a small Montreal publishing house, Anteism, to turn his art into an augmented book. Users point a smartphone or tablet over the book to bring the images to life on the device. Now halfway through a Kickstarter campaign, I talked to Kerr about his work and the book.
Kerr explains what he does as making animated .gifs. “They’re essentially remixes form Northern Renaissance painting,” he says. “I just like them. I studied history and politics in university.”
He got started in 2012 when he was part of an art collective and learning how to animate. A friend who lived beneath him taught him a few tricks using photoshop and another friend suggested he turn his works into animated .gifs. He animated his own artworks. “They are a couple of seconds long and I didn’t start off with the Northern Renaissance. If you go back on my archive, I used what I had for my portfolio, mostly collage art.”
When he ran out of his own works, he began to look for “any images I could find” that were in the public domain. In his searches, he kept coming back to the Northern Renaissance paintings. When he animated those, he decided he liked them the most. “I’m having way more fun animating these works. Yeah, there’s something about them.”
Animation, though, isn’t just moving the figures around. Instead, he creates absurd and surreal cartoons. “I’m making something new of them. I like using them as a palette to make .gif.” In all, he created close to 350, one a day for a year, minus two weeks the first year, and now has 750 .gifs and growing.
“The idea was to post them for my friends. I wasn’t even tagging them,” he says.
However, a few people on tumblr took notice and suddenly his works were everywhere. “I had no clue that it would get that big. I’m supper happy it did,” he says.
As for the book, it began when Anteism approached him. Kerr had been trying to figure out on his own how to do it. He’d even downloaded an app that could turn his images into a book, but Anteism came with the idea of the augmented reality book. “It made so much more sense,” he says. “You have a still image on a page, or a grouping of still images. You point a device at the page and it triggers an animation on your phone and animates on the phone or tablet.”
The book also works as a book of stills.
The works appearing in the book are different from the ones from Kerr’s website. “When I made the originals, I made them small, web-sized. A lot of them won’t be able to go in the book. They won’t be a good resolution to print. Some I’m making a lot bigger and others I’m reworking.” In the end, he intends to include the ones that work best as print images in the book.
I asked him if he had a favorite. “They’re all my babies,” he said. He at least concedes that he likes the one that gives the book its name. “The one of a man riding the scorpion with a sword — it was supposed to be me riding a scorpion, and I added Jesus fighting with me.”
The book will include some text. “We’ve asked a few people to write some stuff for it. There will be some funny surprises in there.”
I ask Kerr if he’s ever gotten to see the images in person. “I’ve seen a few in person,” he says. “Someone sent me an email saying they’d seen the paintings and said it ruined their museum experience, but in a good way.”
James Kerr and Anteism Publishing are running their Kickstarter campaign until October 31 at 10 p.m. Click HERE to read more about it. A softcover book of new and old works by Scorpion Dagger is just $25 and the hardcover featuring some special additions is available starting at $40. For $80 your face can be in one of the .gifs. Many other rewards are available.