Visual Culture: Lee “Scratch” Perry’s “The Death of Baphomet” Art Show

August 27, 2014

Words by Jesse Serwer


Lee “Scratch” Perry isn’t known as The Upsetter for no reason.

As a young artist and producer in the late ’60s he “upset” the Jamaican music establishment with “People Funny Boy” and “Run For Cover,” messages to heavyweight Jamaican producers Joe Gibbs and Sir Coxsone Dodd that some have termed as music’s first diss tracks (“People Funny Boy” was also the first song to use a sample, and features what is arguably the earliest example of a reggae rhythm).

At the height of his production career in the late ’70s, Perry committed the ultimate act of self-sabotage, burning down his landmark Black Ark Studio in an effort to rid himself of perceived demons. His inclination to upset continues today in the form of his consistently eccentric music, not to mention the occasional jab at false deities and other foes (The Pope and Chris Blackwell are popular targets). It can also be seen in his visual art, an avenue he began exploring at Black Ark, and which he has recently presented in a series of gallery shows.

For his latest artistic statement, entitled The Death of Baphomet, Perry is taking on the Illuminati. According to a recorded message from Perry posted to YouTube, work from the show,ย at Dem Passwords Gallery in Los Angeles, will depict the death of the devil “and his puppet Jay-Z.” The press release sent out by Dem Passwords, which presented Perry’s two previous solo shows Secret Education and Repent Americans (the gallery’s founder, Ethan Higbee, produced the Perry documentary The Upsetter), deserves to be read in full:

One of the last of the loose cannons, Lee Perry is at war with original sin. In league with the earth, sky, sun and snow, Perry’s metaphorology takes over international banking institutions and targets celebrity Satanists and Freemasons with a spirit rooted in a sort of Rasta Gnosticism cloaked in Christian imagery. Perry’s medium is myth and his art is about reifying the sanctity of nature over the right of Capital rule. With a scatological eschatology Perry is always working to bring an end to things as they are. He seeks to upset. His ceremonial reverence for his sh*t and piss works to that end, but while Perry calls himself The Upsetter, he also means to lift people up. “I’m coming to make all my fans in America laugh,” Perry says. But Perry is also coming to, “โ€ฆgive all of the American dollars to UBS bank and send famine to United States of America…famine without end, put that on Facebook.”

A master of technologies and aesthetics both high and low, Perry deploys humor and punk sensibility with his hands and feet directly to the canvas forming the circuit through which a creative energy courses back 50+ years. In direct relation to a decades long love affair with American culture, Perry continues to crack his “serious joke” as a legit master of media mania.

The Death of Baphomet presents 4 interrelated output styles – writings, spell casting paintings, assemblages and video. The mirrors he’s long since Pattexed (glued) to his hats and boots have been enlarged and get full treatment. Perry’s pre-stretched canvases stack vertically forming a kind of shattered crucifix affixed with photos of himself and clippings from German magazines. Stones, coconuts and Spencer’s Gifts detritus come together to form object collages. An unabridged dictionary-thick volume of Perry’s writings in Microsoft Word from 2007 published in an edition of 3 by this gallery contains over 1,000 pages of original epic poetry that Perry pecked out with his index finger.

Lee Perry has never met Jay-Z even though in 2003 Jay-Z rapped over a sample of Perry’s 1976 production with Max Romeo, “Chase the Devil.” Perry isn’t chasing the devil anymore. He knows exactly where he is and he’s coming to America to hammer Baphomet and his Illuminati puppets to death.

Lee “Scratch” Perry, 77, lives and works in Einsiedeln, Switzerland.

The Death of Baphomet opens this Friday, August 29th, and runs through October 11th. Perry, who treated guests at his last opening to a three-hour painting marathon, will be in attendance. For an illuminating look into the mind behind Death of Baphomet, watch this video, newly posted to YouTube via Dem Passwords: