The Higher Powers Bible:
From Genesis To Revelation

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An Illustrated Work by Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Peter Harris

During the last decade, Jamaican shaman 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 Perry’s unique world view. Centring on 100 previously unseen collaborative works, with supporting text by Perry’s biographer, David Katz, The Higher Powers Bible has visual representations of Perry’s apocalyptic visions, with fire, brimstone and righteous judgement being exacted on wicked bankers, evil presidents and transgressive prime ministers; vile slave masters with heads of money whip the wretched poor, while the middle classes are force-fed a fast-food diet of addictive iPads, throwaway cars, and toxic mortgages. The pictures are augmented by Perry’s chanted incantations, using his black marker pen as a sword; the stream-of-consciousness words form a symbolic counterpart to a Jamaican deejay, toasting over Harris’s visual ‘riddims.’

The pre-ordained universe that Perry inhabits often seems very different to our earthly present, since it is a realm where spirits dispense wisdom, helping the maverick Jamaican music producer and walking performance art piece to navigate the perpetual battles waged by the forces of Good and Evil. Yet, The Higher Powers Bible certainly speaks to our present-day reality. Perry is, of course, the man who singlehandedly rebuilt the Jamaican reggae scene in his own image, several times over, being involved in every major change of style on the island during the 1960s and 70s. He helped give birth to ska at Studio One and turned the remix culture of dub into an art form at his four-track Black Ark studio, where classics such as Junior Murvin’s Police And Thieves and Max Romeo’s Chase The Devil were committed to tape, the former covered by everyone from the Clash to Boy George and the latter sampled by Jay Z, Kanye West and the Prodigy. Perry helped prepare Bob Marley for international stardom, being responsible for many of the reggae icon’s greatest works, and went on to work with Paul McCartney, Brian Eno and the Beastie Boys. But the man Linton Kwesi Johnson once dubbed the ‘Salvador Dali of Reggae’ is so much more than just an innovative music producer. Indeed, since undergoing a dramatic metamorphosis in the late 1970s, which culminated in the trashing and burning of the Ark, Perry abandoned his traditional role to become a wandering nomad, making a series of ever-shifting artworks across the globe, blending sculpture with collage and montage techniques.

Now, in The Higher Powers Bible, Perry’s egocentric vision has beamed him into the Bible itself: for instance, as a modern-day Jesus, Perry is tempted by Satan with crack cocaine, money and sex. We also see Perry carrying the burden of his Black Ark cross, then crucified and resurrected, 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 as Daniel in the lion’s den, while the studio equipment burns behind him.

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 David Bowie, Siouxsie Sioux and JJ Burnel for the Self Portrait By Proxy series. In The Higher Powers Bible, the disparate influences of Harris and Perry make for some freewheeling collisions: in heaven, we see Perry’s Jamaican heroes, such as Marcus Garvey, Paul Bogle, William Gordon and Sam Sharpe, along with Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, as well as Harris’s cultural heroes, including Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Francis Bacon, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, William S. Burroughs, and Lenny Bruce. Michael Jackson, James Brown and Joe Strummer make guest appearances too.

Overall, The Higher Powers Bible is very much an outsider’s Good Book, with the Elephant Man climbing the ladder to the pearly gates, through which to find peace and acceptance. Avant-garde nonconformists, debauched beatniks, rebellious slaves and tragic martyrs sit side by side, equally rewarded for their endeavours with a place in Perry/Harris heaven. As Perry explains, ‘Some people don’t believe in the Bible, but I believe in it, because I live in the Bible.” These drawings thus stand as a testament to the right of the individual to believe in whatever they wish, no matter how unconventional or outlandish.

David Katz