Left: Todd Kimmell stands with one of the pieces. Right: The Soul Surfers piece.

Left: Todd Kimmell stands with one of the pieces. Right: The Soul Surfers piece.

How a grim illness and a Norwegian led this Philly artist to his retro-Pope Francis designs

Todd Kimmell and Fred Lammers have never met in person. Kimmell is an art company owner who’s been cooped up in his Overbrook Farms home for the last three years while being “flattened” by a grim illness. Lammers is an artist living in Oslo, Norway with a fascination for hot rods and graphic design.

But they’ve come together to celebrate Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to Philadelphia through art, and have created unique prints that merge designs and sketches of Pope Francis with clever manifestations of early 1960’s American cartoons that channel hot rod and surfing culture.

Some of the designs have already hit the market and will be featured during First Friday outside Reform Vintage Modern store in Old City. Kimmell and Lammers, who are coordinating remotely on the project, are continuing to develop, sketch out and print the art.

“The people making the real money at this thing will be hot dog sellers and people selling the yellow and white flags from China, and God bless them for making a living,” Kimmell said. “It’s not what we had in mind, and it’s not what we wanted to do for the project. Yes, I would like to sell enough to put the kids through college, but that ain’t going to happen.”

Above are some of the available prints.

Above are some of the available prints.

Courtesy of Todd Kimmell

Kimmell, who lives and works in Overbrook Farms, owns The Grand Review, an art company that works with unusual historic imagery and re-thinks it for new audiences. A debilitating disease that doctors and researchers are still trying to figure out has kept Kimmell at home for the last three years and, over time, he grew bored and began to study topics he’d never studied before.

This Quaker became fascinated by Pope Francis after he took over for Benedict. Kimmell said he was enthralled by the way Francis was handling his moment in history unlike any other religious leaders in this lifetime — he even equated Francis to William Penn.

“He says, ‘let’s see what love can do,’ and so that’s really radical,” Kimmell said. “Everybody has this great huggy feeling, and then he takes you to more serious places, but doesn’t allow other religious dogma to let it drag it down. It’s like, ‘let’s work together,’ and it’s very exciting to me, being a big guy on joy.”

Growing out of his interest in the Pontiff, Kimmell contacted Lammers — one of his favorite artists — in March with some ideas for how they could collaborate on Pope In Philly-related artwork, beginning with merging the iconic “Popemobile” with other styles of cars. The Oslo-based Lammers specializes in 60s-style hot rod and surfer art and had a quirky vision to mesh with Kimmell’s ideas for the concepts and words that would be on the prints.

The two got to work on a number of concepts and have completed eight, with plans for several more. The images range from Francis on a scooter with the Philadelphia skyline behind him to an image of the Pope standing on top of City Hall in place of Billy Penn.

While collaborating on the images, Kimmell said both he and Lammers have been cognizant of the tone they’re evoking with the work, whether it’s putting the pope on a surfboard or with a pretzel. They don’t want to be grouped in with others who are commemorating the Papal visit by placing Rocky-style boxing gloves on Pope Francis — Kimmell and Lammers feel that’s just not what this Pope is about.

“The main thing is we are having fun,” he said. “It’s respectful and all that, but it’s also based on joy, and it’s based on celebrating this moment.”

The prints currently run for between $20 and $40. Find the artwork on Etsy, here.

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