Artist James Kerr was looking for something new to do, so he decided he’d start making GIFs ‘cause he thought that’d be fun. “Somehow,” he tells me, “I figured the best way to learn was to try and make one per day for an entire year, and see where it all went from there. This was back in 2012.”
Kerr shares his work under the name Scorpion Dagger. Over the past six years, he has produced hundreds of GIFs featuring artwork from northern and early Renaissance paintings. He has also produced a book which features some of his best and most popular work. But Kerr didn’t start out as an artist, he was a Political Science graduate who spent his time at university hanging “with lots of art school kids who really inspired me to make art.” I like Kerr’s work—they’re funny and clever and remind me of those brilliant animations Terry Gilliam made for Monty Python. I contacted Kerr to find out more about his work as Scorpion Dagger.
What’s with the name Scorpion Dagger? Where did it come from?
James Kerr: Essentially, it’s all to annoy my friends. It comes from working construction with these guys a long time ago, and us joking around about needing some tough sounding nicknames. I came up with Scorpion Dagger, and they all hated it. Them hating on it made me want to try and make it stick even more, so when it came time to name the GIF project, the choice was obvious.
How do you make your GIFs?
JK: At first, it was all made in Photoshop. I’d hunt around for interesting images, cut them up, and animate all in PS. I’ve slowly started using After Effects more-and-more, but there’s some quality issues that I don’t like with it—it’s too clean! I like a slightly messier aesthetic. But, it does save me tons of time, so now somewhere around I’m 50/50.
What brought you to these specific sets of paintings?
JK: It goes back to making GIFs every day for an entire year - it was a real struggle finding inspiration for what to animate, so I would do these totally random google image searches where I would pull out whatever struck a chord. At some point I noticed that I kept going back to these specific paintings, and noticed that the inspiration got easier. I find the paintings from that era to be quite comical on their own, especially those of the Northern Renaissance, and that they were a perfect muse in helping me say what I wanted to say.
What has the response been?
JK: Pretty amazing. During that first year I figured that I may be able to find a gallery show where I would project them all once it was all done, and that would be that. But, as time went on, I couldn’t see myself ending it. I was having way too much fun. Now, this whole silly project has turned in to a career. Definitely lucked out.
You produced a book out—can you tell me something about it?
JK: Do You Like Relaxing? came out a few years ago, and it is (we think) the first ever (and perhaps only) physical book of animated GIFs. It presents itself much like any old art book, with still images and such, but you can animate a good chunk of them on your device using an augmented reality app. It all came about when I was looking around for someone to help me out with an AR project I was trying to pitch, and a friend introduced me the Antesim (the publisher), who were looking for someone to do an AR book with.
What motivates you?
JK: Not entirely sure. Not to sound too clichéd, but at times art feels as if it’s something I need to do. If I haven’t made something in a while, I tend to get this uneasy feeling. In a sense, I just really love making stuff, and don’t feel whole unless I’m working on something.
JK: No idea. I’m sitting on a couple projects that will slowly roll out over the next year that I’m really excited about. One of which is another book, but this time it’s in collaboration with some writers who wrote this fun story. One thing that’s been on my mind is that I would love to experiment a little more, and get back in to posting on my socials a little more regularly, which, for me, I think go hand-in-hand.