James Kerr / Scorpion Dagger's favourite things in Montreal

The Montreal-based artist known as Scorpion Dagger on things to love and change about the city, fond memories, the importance of walking, and getting mugged for $4 one time.

J.P. Karwacki

J.P. Karwacki

April 26, 2024- Read time: 6 min
James Kerr / Scorpion Dagger's favourite things in MontrealPhotograph: Courtesy James Kerr

James Kerr is a Montreal-based digital artist and animator better known as Scorpion Dagger (the name’s an inside joke from his time as a student at Concordia), the source of remixed European art from the 14th to 17th centuries including Northern Renaissance paintings with real life humour through animated digital collages.

He’s been tapped to create work for the New York Times and the New Yorker, as well as commissions from Gucci, Adult Swim, Amstel, Fender, Old Spice, and the Bavarian State Opera. He also contributed animations to Jim Jarmusch’s documentary film Gimme Danger in 2016. His work’s appeared at several galleries, most recently UltraSuperNew gallery in Tokyo. He’s also written and produced music videos for such bands as Brockhampton, Tommy Cash, Wolf Parade, Metz, Remo Drive and others.

Apart from his Instagram feed, Kerr’s work found a pivotal career moment in the limited edition augmented reality book Do You Like Relaxing? released with the Montreal publisher Anteism Books in 2015, and a special edition of The Book of Daryl by The Goggles (Paul Shoebridge and Michael Simons) in 2021.

Who do you rely on for a great meal in Montreal, and why?

“I’m a vegetarian, so it’s a bit more limited for me I guess, but I find Montreal’s a great vegetarian city. One place I get excited to go to is Sushi Momo, and a ramen place that opened in Verdun called Iku Ramen, they have an amazing spicy vegan option that I really enjoy. That’s my takeout go-to recently.

There’s also a Mexican restaurant in Verdun, El Sabor del México, that I enjoy for its cozy atmosphere and the people are great, and the enchiladas are delicious. Also Hong Mère, they’re great.”

Image: James Kerr / Scorpion Dagger / @scorpiondagger

Where do you go in Montreal to shake yourself up a bit? You know, to get out of a creative funk or get inspired?

“Since COVID and the lockdowns, I’ve turned into a giant walker, and I just love walking around the city. Like I’ll have a meeting up in the Mile End and walk there and back, and just try to take a different route each time.

I love the mountain—walking over the mountain, through the mountain, all over it, being among trees and nature—and I crave that.

And one of the things I love about Verdun is walking down by the river, walk by the Parc des Rapides with its old dam and bird sanctuary, looking downstream towards the skyline of Montreal, and just sitting there and listening to the rapids. I love feeling like you’re getting out of the city to rejuvenate and get inspiration that way, clearing your head.

And the whole city has great alleys, just getting a different perspective on neighbourhoods; hearing conversations people are having, seeing their laundry hanging, seeing their gardens. It’s a beautiful perspective on the city."

Image: James Kerr / Scorpion Dagger / @scorpiondagger

What's your favorite street in the city, and why?

“I have a soft spot for Coursol Street in Little Burgundy. There’s no commerce on it, it’s very residential; I had my first apartment with my partner on that street years and years ago closer to Atwater.

I always try to take a detour on that street when I walk home because I have such fond memories of it. It’s changed a lot since I lived there, but it’s distinctly Montreal, and it holds a lot of those memories.”

Is there a bar or watering hole that'll always be your go-to?

“It’s always been Bar de Courcelle for years because I’ve been in the Sud-Ouest for a long time. Recently, my friend group’s been split between the Plateau, Mile End and Villeray and the Sud-Ouest, so we’ve been meeting up at Turbo Haus—also, Sergio’s alright; I love him, he’s always a good time and I love what he’s doing with the spot.”

Image: James Kerr / Scorpion Dagger / @scorpiondagger

What's one of your fondest memories of the city to date?

“The 1993 Stanley Cup run for the Habs. I grew up in the West Island, and as a teenager, taking the 211 bus downtown, we’d get off at Lionel-Groulx and take the metro up to Atwater, walk down Sainte-Catherine hitting all the spots—Dutchie’s, Labyrinth—and we’d rarely get past Place des Arts because that where things would get weird.

Anyway, the ’93 Stanley Cup Run was when we started coming downtown all the time. You used to be able to buy standing room tickets at the Forum, and we’d get downtown for the playoff game. Tickets were, like, 10 or 12 bucks and you’d just rush in and find a place to stand behind the barriers and you’d be wedged between older men drinking beer and smoking cigarettes, hearing expressive swear words in French and English for the first time.

That era was when I discovered downtown, that was when I knew it was where I wanted to live. And my dad, the company he worked for had season tickets and he somehow got tickets to game 5 where they won the cup, and I saw the Habs lift the cup the last time.

Coming out, we saw the riots happening, people on top of Atwater station jumping up and down… that made me fall in love with downtown, and I was thinking “oh the city is fucking cool”—just the energy of it all.

Montreal was never a dangerous city for me. I also remember one time I got mugged on Sainte-Catherine and the person was nice about it. They just got $4 out of me."

Image: James Kerr / Scorpion Dagger / @scorpiondagger

Name a local artist that you love and think deserves more attention. Why them?

“I’ve been listening to the latest record from BIG|BRAVE non-stop since it’s been out. I discovered them while I was in France last year. Great band.”

Let's say you're in the dead of winter in Montreal; where do you want to be most?

“I love being warm and cozy when the snow is falling outside. I love having drinks with friends, being in a warm bar and watching the snow fall outside, going to a friend's place for dinner with a big potluck... There's that Danish term, hygge, and it’s that feeling.

You know that lyric, “Mon pays, ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver" ? I love winter, and it’s what makes Montreal special. It fuels creativity in the city—as well as cheap rent, RIP—but there’s something about being indoors and having that time off followed by the orgasm of summer when you let everything spill out.

Having that time of reflection, short days, being cozy, and working on stuff? That’s what makes Montreal such a creative city.”

Image: James Kerr / Scorpion Dagger / @scorpiondagger

So let’s say it's summer, where are you rushing out of the door to get to?

“Like most Montrealers, terrasses and parks. Albeit with me, I’m fairer skinned so you’ll see me with my sunscreen and my hat, so you can find me under a tree.

As for a favourite park? My friends always end up going to the same parks in the Mile End, but they’re always so busy. Instead, I’d get friends to come down to the river (in Verdun); there’s this one spot you can literally sit on a ledge have a beer in the water as it goes over your shoulders. When it’s really hot and the sun’s setting in the west? It’s amazing.”

Image: James Kerr / Scorpion Dagger / @scorpiondagger

If you could change one thing with the snap of a finger in Montreal, what would it be?

“People don’t leave their neighbourhoods! Like trying to convince people to come down to Verdun, to leave to Mile-Ex or Villeray it’s like pulling teeth, and your friends will have group chats to arrange car pools.

It takes you 20 to 30 minutes to get anywhere in the city, and it drives me nuts. It’s so walkable.

Since my trip in Tokyo, getting a drink in spot and then hop on the train to go somewhere else, it’s not a big deal and it’s completely normal.”

 Support James Kerr and find some stuff to buy off of him here. You can also follow him on Instagram.

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