Illingworth Holey Kerr was born in Lumsden, Saskatchewan in 1905. He attended Central Technical School, in Toronto, and Ontario College of Art. He also studied at Westminster School of Art, in London in 1936.
Upon his return to Canada Kerr taught at Vancouver School of Art from 1945-47. In 1947 he became director of the art department of the Provincial Institute of Technology in Calgary.
His early works often captured landscapes using thick paint and defined brush strokes. His later works had less formal structure and more visual tension.
In 1985 a retrospective of his work traveled to nine established public art galleries.
Kerr was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Calgary, Calgary, in 1973. He received The National Award for Painting and Related Arts, from the University of Alberta, Edmonton, in 1975, and the Order of Canada in 1983.
He became a member of the Alberta Society of Artists in 1947 and was Vice-President from 1951-52 and President in 1952-53. He was a Calgary correspondent for the A.S.A. Highlights in 1956 and Assistant Editor in 1957. He became a member of the Royal Canadian Academy in 1974.
His works can be seen in the Edmonton Art Gallery, the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, in the Lethbridge University Collection and in the Mendel Gallery, Saskatoon.
He died in Calgary in 1989.