Houston, Texas-based Phillip Kremer won't reveal much about his process, influence or motivations, but his faceless portraits are some of the scariest creations you'll find online. With subjects ranging from scientists, astronauts and random children celebrating their birthdays, to political figures and celebrities like Snoop Dogg and "The Situation," his morphed portraits have drawn a vast and diverse fan base, largely outside the art world and photo communities, and have amassed followers ranging from Katy Perry to Christian youth groups. His quick and dirty digital facelifts bring to mind the work of Charlie White and Asger Carlsen, both in their sense of humor and terror, but with a jagged, on-the fly sensibility that keeps them uniquely current. Since his source material is entirely appropriated from Google image searches, he's been kicked off of Instagram numerous times (as of this post, his third attempt is still live), but his work lives semi-permanently on his Tumblr Archive. We caught up with him recently to learn more about what's driving his every-day.
Humble: Tell us a bit about yourself/ what's your background as an artist/ photographer?
A: I have no formal training as an artist or photographer.
Humble: What are you doing when you're not making this work?
Phillip Kremer: I work as a warehouse foreman for a chemical storage facility in Houston's 5th ward. It is a giant row of old warehouses along the train tracks that sits on a large plot of land northeast of downtown. I took the job for the atmosphere. The office smells like stale cigarettes and is painted Oiler blue. Although it isn’t directly an art related job, I use the 100 year old beams from the warehouse to make frames for my brother's paintings, my 2nd job.
Humble: How did you get started making these pictures?
A: I started making the pictures a few years ago out of boredom. I changed someones portrait and my mood got better. I can take a soul away with the swipe of a finger or make any bland person come alive with an alternative haircut. Better than drugs.
Humble: What's most exciting for you about making these pictures?
Phillip Kremer: The excitement in twerkin' the photos is multistage, and surfing for portraits brings its own fun and challenges. I started by dragging the forehead down, but quickly found out that I could also manipulate the hairstyles of these people; taking the portrait of a corporate type or elder and giving them some life. Strangely, it usually turns out to be just as creepy as it is funny. That is the feeling I am most thrilled with....not knowing how I feel.
Humble: Given the speed and volume you're producing, Instagram and Tumblr seem like the ideal venues to host these. Have you shown them in any physical exhibitions or in print? Do you have any plans to?
Phillip Kremer: Ha! Instagram WAS the perfect venue until they censored me and shut down my account. I don’t know why my account was shut down, and there is no way of protesting after the fact. At the time it was shut down, I had a few thousand followers and was gaining hundreds of followers each day. Maybe I offended somebody? Maybe I was hacked? Either way, most of the 600+ pictures were lost and I wasn’t given the option of recovering them. I was burned by Facebook in a similar way, they didn't like my art, so they shut me down. Currently I am only posting to my uncensored tumblr account and am focused on making the images into physical objects that nobody can take away. I am looking into different venues to display these pictures.
Humble: Can you tell me a bit about the process?
Phillip Kremer: No, because I’m not getting paid to promote any app or program, and I don’t think the process really matters as much as the feeling we get when viewing the images. Whether the image is cut and paste, shopped or painted doesn’t matter to me as much as the giggle or creep I get from the old businessman staring back at me.
Humble: If there any rhyme or reason to the specific people you select to manipulate?
Phillip Kremer: I find an endless stream of content by searching Google images for portraits.
Humble: You mentioned that you have (or had!) some celebrity followers, and your original Instagram page was flooded with comments. Did you expect this kind of attention? Is it a little mind blowing?
Phillip Kremer: It is a bit strange to wake up in the morning and see that Katy Perry and John Mayer are following you, and liking your artwork. I don’t know how they happened upon my Instagram account (or if they were together when they found it !!!TMZ!!!), but it wasn’t long before I had a crew of pre-pubescent teens telling Mr. Mayer what a hunk he is in my comments. Having Katy like a picture was great, but nothing compared to watching my account get followed by vastly different groups of people for a wide range of reasons. Tattoo artists dreaming of a blank face to practice on, contemporary Christian youth following because I’m toying with God’s creation, musicians deciding which one would make a better album cover, and a lot of others who just don’t know what to make of it but can’t stop staring.
Humble: Do you have any favorite photographers or artists right now?
Phillip Kremer: I like anyone who is trying to use the 11th percent of their brain. The third eye sees all!