The Higher Powers Bible: From Genesis To Revelation
by Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Peter Harris
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During the last decade, legendary Jamaican music producer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and multifaceted British artist Peter Harris have embarked on a diverse series of collaborative artworks. Perry appeared in Harris’ 2007 feature film, Higher Powers, and the pair exhibited joint work under that title at London’s Tabernacle in 2009. Their latest project, The Higher Powers Bible: From Genesis To Revelation, takes the form of an updated version of the Holy Bible, shaped by the unique world views of both artists.
This Bible is very much an Old Testament vision with fire, blood and brimstone, and righteous judgement being exacted on wicked bankers, presidents and prime ministers. Evil slave masters with the faces of money whip the oppressed poor and the middle classes and force feed them a diet of fast food, i-pads, cars and mortgages. Throughout the pictures Perry chants an incantation as he writes the words “Bun up de wicked” with his marker pen drawn like a sword. His stream of conscious words act as a Jamaican deejay toasting over Harris’ visual ‘ridims’.
Drawing on both the mythology as well as his personal experiences of Perry, Harris recasts him as characters from the Bible. As Jesus he is tempted by Satan with crack, money and sex. We see him carrying the burden of his Black Ark cross before being crucified then resurrected laughing, while doubting Thomases probe his wounds. As Jonah he appears from the mouth of a sea beast surrounded by smashed computers. As King David he plays his holy harp. And in The Sacred Black Ark recording studio he sits cast as Daniel in the lion’s den while his studio equipment burns behind him in a reimagining of the fateful events that took place in the early 80’s.
The disparate influences and interests between the two artists makes for a freewheeling collision between Perry’s eclectic spirituality and Harris’s cultural points of reference. Jah, Haile Selassie and Marcus Garvey appear throughout as witnesses to the proceedings. In heaven we see Jamaican figureheads such as Paul Bogle, William Gordon and Sam Sharpe as well as Harris’ artistic heroes including Van Gogh, Francis Bacon, William Boroughs and Lenny Bruce. This is an outsider’s Bible - in it we see the Elephant Man climbing the ladder to heaven to find peace and acceptance. Also on the ladder ‘heading to the top’ are Joe Strummer of The Clash - who as every punk will know Perry worked with - as well as artists Andy Warhol, Picasso and Rembrandt. Avant-garde mavericks, debauched beatniks, rebellious slaves and martyrs sit side by side rewarded for their endeavours with a place in Perry/Harris heaven.
As Perry says: “some people don’t believe in the Bible, but I believe in it because I live in the Bible”. These drawings stand as a testament to the right of the individual to believe whatever they wish no matter how unconventional and outlandish.
Text by David Katz author of People Funny Boy: The Genius of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, and Solid Foundation: an Oral History of Reggae.
Peter Harris studied Fine Art at the Chelsea College of Art and Design, and the University of East London. His painting installation Hard Rain, which was inspired by Bob Dylan and The Clash, toured the UK as part of the Air Guitar art and music show, and he collaborated with the London Mennonite Choir to produce Hymn at the National Film Theatre. Harris also wrote and directed the play Sir Septimus Vein’s Carnival Of Freak and collaborated with Ray Davies, David Bowie, Siouxsie Sioux and JJ Burnel from The Stranglers for his Self Portrait By Proxy series. Harris’ work has always combined music with his art and this year Harris has been offered a recording deal with Trashmouth Records for 2 solo albums as well as a collaborative album with Lee Perry.
Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry is a Jamaican musician and reggae pioneer, producing and writing some of the most seminal albums of the seventies such as Super Ape, War Ina Babylon and Police and Thieves. Rolling Stone magazine ranked Perry in their top 100 list of Greatest Artists of All Time and in 2003 Perry won a Grammy for Best Reggae Album with Jamaican E.T. Films on worldwide release about Perry include The Upsetter in 2011 and Visions of Paradise 2016 where Harris and Perry can be seen making paintings together. In 2013 Perry received a Gold Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica which is awarded in recognition of achievement in art, science, and literature.