GIF Artist James Kerr Shares Stories Behind His Work

James Kerr’s GIFS are much like his Tumblr name, Scorpion Dagger: jovial yet astute. Okay, maybe ‘Scorpion Dagger’ isn’t astute, rather an ongoing joke James begun with friends which seems to have spiraled beyond his intentions, but the combining of Renaissance art figures with modern situations are.


From Adam commenting on Eve’s Instagram upload to Jesus crowd surfing, James GIFS are a daily stream of consciousness – although notably, often cynical. “One of the best compliments I’ve ever received was from a good friend who said that the work almost perfectly reflects who I am”, James tells us, “the sense of humour and aesthetic, apparently, is a good reflection of my personality”. However, he is clear about the fact that he intends the GIFS to be a representation of all our personalities – a series in which we all recognise, and perhaps cringe, at all too familiar elements: from bitching, in hushed voices, about the boss just as he walks past to getting an ill-advised tattoo.


The Plus: What inspired this series?
James Kerr:
Back in 2012, I thought it would be fun to learn how to animate, and asked a friend of mine to show me how to make animations on Photoshop. Shortly after, I came up with this idea to make one animated GIF a day for an entire year, and maybe try and find a gallery to exhibit them once it was all done. Although I don’t make them everyday anymore, I’m still very much in love with the process, and can’t imagine stopping now it’s 4 years later.


TP: What is the creative process when creating the GIFS? (including how you choose the paintings and put it together etc)
Usually what happens is that I come up with an idea of what to make, and start going through paintings to draw out elements I want to use to create the scene. Often I have to make certain things that don’t exist in the paintings, so I have to make those elements either from scratch, or take pictures of stuff around me.


TP: Some of the GIFS are captivating yet disturbing, how do you want the observer to feel when watching your GIFS?
A lot of the works are just weird ramblings I have going around in my head. It’s almost as if it’s become this strange stream of consciousness for me. The GIFs often reflect my mood on a given day, and are based on certain lived experiences. One of the best compliments I’ve ever received was from a good friend who said that the work almost perfectly reflects who I am. The sense of humour and aesthetic, apparently, is a good reflection of who my personality. I guess if I had to give a clear answer to how I want the observer to feel, it would be foremost that I just want them to have fun looking at the GIFs, and maybe recognize certain elements of their lives in it as well. I want it to familiar for not only me, but for the viewer as well.

drive thru

TP: Why did you decide to work with GIFS?
I love the medium. I love how there are certain constraints in the file format (like file sizes can’t be too large or that you don’t have to worry about the details too much due to the 256 colour limit). These constraints, although at times frustrating, make it a nice challenge to try and get your ideas across in creative ways.
I also really love how easily they are shared. I love seeing the GIFs pop up in places where I’d never expect them. It’s really fun letting them out in the world and watching them develop a life of their own.


TP: How would you describe the relationship between technology and art?
Artists have always embraced new technology, and it’s often the artist who pushes those boundaries of the purpose which they were originally intended. I think that’s the greatest role of the artist; to offer new perspectives on the world around us.


TP: Why do you call yourself Scorpion Dagger?
It’s a joke I have with a few friends. A long time ago, I tried to convince them to start calling me Scorpion Dagger, and they refused (for good reason). When I started the Tumblr, I figured it would be a good opportunity to keep the joke alive. Essentially, the name is just to piss them off. Interesting thing is, I never really intended it to be an official artist name or anything like that. It was originally just meant to be the name of the GIF project.

hot dog copy

TP: What is your artistic background?
My mother is an artist, so growing up I was always encouraged to make stuff, but didn’t pursue it much more than just being a fun pastime. In university, where I was studying Politics and History, I found myself hanging out with a bunch of art school kids, and started an art collective with them. That really reignited my interest in making art. I’ve been making collages in one form or another ever since.


TP: What is next for you?
Right now I’m in the pretty early stages of developing this web project / series thing with some producers in Australia and here in Canada. In a sense it’s an extension of what I’ve already been doing with Scorpion Dagger, but with a bit more focus and playing with different mediums. I’m really excited to explore some new things, and even more excited to share it once it gets going.