You’re invited to the GIF Party!: An Interview with Ferren Gipson

19 July 2018 | Emily May

To celebrate being granted CC licence images across their website – meaning you can use them for free! – Art UK have launched their own GIF collection. Featuring GIFs by New York digital artist Matthias Brown, as well as public submissions, the collection gives traditional works a thoroughly modern makeover and aims to show that art doesn’t have to take itself too seriously. We chatted to Art UK’s Social Media Marketer Ferren Gipson, about the origins and aims of the project, making the art world more accessible, and how you can submit your own GIFs.

CC: Where did the initial idea come from to create an Art UK GIF collection?
Ferren Gipson: So it started because we got CC licence images on the website – some collections have given us permission to extend CC licence throughout the website. So we now have a new filter on our website, where hopefully people can easily sort through the hundreds of collections and thousands of images and find the ones that are CC licenced, which are free to use, as long as you follow the right guidelines. We were trying to think of a fun way to get people to engage with them, and play with the images, and so we came up with the idea of transforming them into GIFs. We wanted to tap into the collections in a way which feels really relevant to the things people are interested in now, and in a way that maybe doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Image Credit: Taken from the animation created by Matthias Brown. Source image: Frances Wansford by unknown artist. Photo credit: Doncaster Museum Service, CC BY.
CC: How did New York based GIF artists, Matthias Brown - become interested in the project?
FG: I found him from seeing some of the work he’d done, he’d made some GIFs for the TATE about 4 years ago. I reached out to him and he instantly came back with this amazing cow GIF, a different one to the one we used in the end. But he produced it within a matter of hours, and it was so fluid – he’s so talented. So I was like – yes please! Make all the GIFs! So far he’s made five.
CC: They’re very humorous and seem to make the art world – which can at times seem intimidating – more accessible. 
FG: I think so. What is going to be fun to see is how people use the GIFs. Right now everyone is caught up with the novelty of the launch, which is really exciting, but it’ll also be exciting to see it organically develop, and whether people will use the GIFs to communicate on a daily basis. Maybe if they’re excited they’ll use the cows.
CC: Is there a way you can keep track of that?
FG: I can see on GIPHY how many people have viewed the GIFs through the GIPHY platform. Now we’re at over 24 million views for all the GIFs so far – it’s insane. I hope that it doesn’t die with the launch. I really want people to make their own so that we can build the collection. I’m really not aware of anything else like this going on. Even if institutions decide to make their own GIFs it would be nice for us to add them to our collection as a central body that people can go to for their art GIF needs!

Image Credit: Castle Howard Shorthorns by Henry Stafford (1830–1873), Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery, CC BY.
CC: What other institutions would you be interested in working with?
FG: The Science Museum have just reached out about a painting they have called Mrs. Sage, and they thought she’d be great as a GIF. So we tweeted that out to ask people to show us what they can do. It’s really up to people’s interpretation and seeing where they go with it. For example, looking at the cows, my mind would never have thought to make them twerk! So I’m really looking forward to seeing what people do.

CC: What do you think the original artists would have made of the new comic versions of their art works?
FG: I think some artists would be really precious about things, and I think there’s others who would love to see their work evolve and take on a new life. At the end of the day a lot of artists just want their work to be seen and experienced… so I feel a lot of them would feel happy for it to continue on in some form.
CC: Do you have a favourite GIF?
I like the one of Audrey Wimble rolling her eyes, because she has attitude. I relate to that.

Image Credit: Taken from the animation created by Matthias Brown. Source image: Audrey Wimble by unknown artist, Lewes Town Council, CC BY.

CC: In what other ways is Art UK using the internet and digital technology to engage the nation in art?
FG: We originally started by helping collections to digitise their oil paintings. We had people all over the country photographing these things, and now they’re on our website. We have over 200,000 images. These are things that are in storage sometimes, or things that you wouldn’t see if you went to a gallery, as well as some things which are on display. What we have coming up next is the same but for sculpture.
CC: Why do you think it’s important to use digitalised artworks?
FG: I think what’s really important to us is accessibility. Many of the artworks we have digitised are from public collections that we all jointly fund and own, and we want people to be able to see these things. For example, I live here, but I may want to see something in the Northern Irish collection, so I can go on Art UK and view it without having to book a flight. Or it can help you find the things you want to see in an institution, it can be a research tool for students to be able to see works that aren’t out on display. Also, art history programmes are being taken out of schools, so people are having less and less access to get to know art, fuelling the preconceptions that art is scary and intimidating. So hopefully by putting it out on the internet and doing things like GIFs makes more people feel like they can engage with it.
CC: Some would argue that this is detracting from the physical experience of art…
FG: I don’t think so. It’s funny because we did an exhibition at the London Art Fair this year, and we had a painting there from our Art Detective programme, which is where we help find new things out about paintings. Seeing it in person it was totally different. You forget how different it is seeing something online to seeing in first hand. So I think Art UK can be a tool to use in conjunction with going to physical collections, and can help people plan a museum visit, or find out what’s out there. But in some cases, the works aren’t on show, so this is the only place you can see it.

Image Credit: Art Matters by Bob & Roberta Smith. © Bob and Roberta Smith, Photo credit: Art UK

CC: Do Art UK have any future plans?
FG: We have a podcast series called Art Matters that we started in February that comes out every two weeks, and that’s been really exciting. It’s talking about art in a pop culture context. We’ve done episodes about the Met Gala, celebrity culture, hip-hop music, hairstyles, tattoos and I’ve even just recorded one about queer culture and mythological creatures. Hopefully it gives more people access to talk about art. People might not know much about or feel comfortable talking about art, but they might know about cookbooks – which was our last episode – and so it makes them feel more comfortable to talk about art through that lens. Everyone has a right to talk about art. Whatever you think is valid.
You can view Art UK’s GIF collection on their GIPHY and Tumblr pages. Submit your own creations on their Tumblr, or by emailing

Most popular

The Best Novels Set in London
The Best Novels Set in London
Top 5 Summer Films
Top 5 Summer Films
A Comedy Lover’s Guide to Podcasts
A Comedy Lover’s Guide to Podcasts

Your inbox deserves a little culture! Get our monthly newsletter