A walk through music and visual arts with Peter Harris
My first contact with musician and illustrator Peter Harris took place through the superb cover of Lee Scratch Perry’s Rainford album. For the album artwork, Peter has morphed a Lee Perry trio into the three horsemen of the Apocalypse. Intrigued by the cover, I found out their collaboration goes way back to the time they made the psychedelic painting and illustration for Higher Powers, a documentary film, an exhibition, and a book. The book, abounded in images with the usual Lee Perry's concepts and political criticism, also features Queen Elizabeth II of Britain, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, UK PM Theresa May, Margaret Thatcher, and, of course, Trump.
So, when I began to document for the interview, I got absorbed into the world where punk rockers are saints, and illustrations depict a world as insane and creative as what the last year made us experience and assimilate.
| What is the story of your BABYMAN project? You have recently released the collage video HAPPY BLAH BLAH DAY, and this was my first introduction to you.
BABYMAN is a conceptual Art Band formed during lockdown with the artist and musician Thom Driver, with whom I have previously been in bands (Arthur Brick and Piper's Son), and the multi-talented Dylan Bates helps out by playing every instrument known to man-kind on our songs, and animator Llyr Williams adds piano and keyboards. The band and the songs are an anti- machismo project, anti-sex, drugs, and rock n roll. So the song subjects are about cat love, penis size and male competition, a man trapped in his baby body, body fascism, class consciousness, and failure in general. You can check out our YouTube.
| I would love to know more about your ongoing creativity with Lee Scratch Perry. How did you meet and how did the 'Higher Powers' come to be?
I first met Lee when I began making a documentary film in 2002 called 'Higher Powers'. I flew to Switzerland to interview him, and we connected. So, every year we would meet up and film. Then, that led to the first drawings we made, which became a much bigger project called 'The Higher Powers Bible - from Genesis to Revelation'.
We also began recording music together, the idea being to add these collaborations to the film so there shouldn't be any copyright issues. I have a lot of recordings of Lee that I would love to release. The problem is to find the right label to release it. My intentions, with everything I do with Lee, are to make something different. Unfortunately, most labels want a typical Lee Perry reggae record, and the recordings I've made are certainly not that! The January BOMBART show on Radio Alhara will be a one-hour Lee Perry special, so if you want to hear this music, check it out!
| You have mentioned the BOMBART show that broadcasts in Israel/Palestine at Radio ALHARA. Tell us a bit more about this collaboration project with Mark Stewart.
Mark Stewart and I are now working together on art, music, film, and radio projects under the banner of BOMBART. Just like Lee Perry, he is a real one-off character. I met him through On-U Sound maestro Adrian Sherwood. We began exchanging ideas over the phone, which eventually became a film we made called Blood Money/Slow Thief for the Pop Group reissue of their seminal 'Y' album. Next, at the beginning of the lockdown, we exchanged new ideas for a painting series of 'Hybrid Portraits'. These watercolors are depictions of Mark mixed with some of his influences (Andy Warhol, Sun Ra, James Brown, Isabel Eberhardt, Comte De Lauréamont, George Bataille, Count of St Germain).
The latest project we have is a monthly show on radio Alhara (the 3rd Saturday of every month, 7 pm UK time). The show is a one-hour sonic collage (like the hybrid paintings) of musical and cultural influences cut up and re-edited together and played over with live guitar, bass, percussion and vocals, flutes, piano, synth. The result is a chaotic order - destroying to create.
| You did two covers for Lee Perry, Rainford, and Heavy Rain. How did that come about? Was it a commission by Adrian Sherwood?
The covers came about through Adrian Sherwood, who has been a big supporter of mine through the years. He has bought a lot of artworks and introduced me to many great people. The Jesus Perry was commissioned for the cover by him, the four horsemen drawing he already owned.
For the animated video I have worked with Llyr Williams. We have been working together since I began the Higher Powers film (2002). We had a lot of fun working on these On-U animations, and I am pleased that they got so many views. I would love to do a whole feature film of animated drawings.
| You speak fondly of Adrian Sherwood. You two go back for a long time?
Adrian and I first met when my 'Higher Powers' film premiered at The Tabernacle in Notting Hill, London. After the movie, people could visit a popup exhibition of Lee and my paintings with a special live gig along with Lee and Adrian.
After that, we started meeting up - he has seen my children grow up! He has made a lot of mixes for me, some Lee Perry things as well. He also signed some remixes for a couple of songs from my solo album: You Will Be My Dad and Nothing and then Nothing with Lee Perry. He is currently mixing a whole album of new material I have made with Zsa Zsa Sapien of South London band Meatraffle. The project goes under Hi-Fi Twins and is a dancehall, folk, psychedelic mix. I can't wait to get it out into the world.
There is a plan to put out a book of my On-U portraits and Adrian’s memoirs next year, too.
| For me, after the Lee Scratch Perry images, the next iconic Peter Harris pictures are the ones of breastfeeding: amazing how Marley is drinking Lee Perry’s milk, and you are drinking from John Lydon, Joes Strummer, and Sid Vicious.
With the 'Art Dads', I wanted to explore, as directly as possible, the uncomfortable ideas of identity, origin, celebrity, and self-portraiture.
There is naked neediness, but also a knowingness too. Like the BABYMAN songs, there is irony and innocence in equal measure.
This is the space I am most interested in - neither the art world nor the outsider - something unintellectual in a dumb smart way.
On You will be my Dad video you can see me sitting on Lee Perry's knee, and him acting as my Dad!
There is an element of forcing reality to bend my way through all my art and music. We only live one life, but we ingest many others. Some are inherited, some force-fed to us as a youth, and others we seek out and are an acquired taste.
| Another music-related initiative you did was Self Portrait by Proxy. You „clashed” with Bowie, Siouxsie Sioux, and JJ Burnel from The Stranglers. How was that process?
That was the moment I started to collaborate - in 1998 working 'by proxy', inviting family and cultural icons who have influenced my life to give me ideas for paintings, searching for my identity through those who had played a part in constructing it. It was a way of freeing up the aesthetics of the image-making though hopefully retaining the core truth of myself. It was like a visual journey through Rimbaud's adage of ”I is another”.
| Your images and creativity also reached Romania, creating the visuals for the Un Nebun video, a Rodion GA collaboration with Mark Stewart. How did this come to your drawing board?
Mark was involved with a documentary about Rodion GA whom he is a massive fan of, and he asked me to make a film to go with a song they collaborated. I painted their portraits and added new drawings to some pre-existing animated footage I made with my long-time animation collaborator Llyr Williams. The falling horses and twitching drunk/dead businessmen seemed to fit with the feeling of the song, so we just followed our instincts. The story of Rodian GA is an amazing one too.
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