Lee Jaffe is an American artist, photographer, filmmaker and musician.
All images courtesy of the artist
Born in the Bronx to a Jewish family, Jaffe grew up in New York City. Having fulfilled his high school requirements at the age of sixteen, Jaffe left New York to attend Penn State University, where he studied American history and literature, art history, and modern philosophy. Jaffe left Penn State at the age of 19, returned briefly to New York where he played harmonica and guitar in various bands, and then picked up suddenly and moved to Brazil. Through the music scene there he was introduced into a circle of friends making experimental films. There he directed such films as the 16 mm film “Nine Ways of Dying”, created in the remote mountains of Brazil. Jaffe became close to the influential Brazilian filmmaker Neville d’Almeida and the artist Hélio Oiticica, with whom he collaborated in the April 1970 exhibition “From Body to Earth” in Belo Horizonte. When Jaffe returned in New York in 1971, he continued making films, such as “Impact”, with the conceptual artist Vito Acconci, and “Brooklyn Bridge”, with Gordon Matta-Clark. In 1971 he also participated in the landmark conceptual exhibition “Projects: Pier 18” for the Museum of Modern Art, New York, curated by Willoughby Sharp. In 1972, while working with Island Records, he met Bob Marley in a hotel room in New York. He followed Marley back to Jamaica on what was originally a two-week vacation, but ended up staying for the next five years. Jaffe lived with Marley, managing the Wailers, playing harmonica on the album Natty Dread, and organizing their North American tour. In Jamaica, Jaffe also met Peter Tosh, and he produced his album Legalize It and shot the iconic cover in 1977. Jaffe moved back to New York in 1977, while still working with Peter Tosh. In 1983 Jaffe turned to painting. His works have been characterized as “large scale, multi-media historical assemblage.” Through his work, he has explored various themes of marginalization in American history, such as “the exploitation of the black performer in America, the cruelty of the fur industry, the relationship of the Native American to his environment, the ambiguity of America’s traitors.” Jaffe has exhibited at major museums worldwide, including Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden; The Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin; and the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, England. In the mid-80s, he produced records for reggae pioneer Joe Higgs, Grammy-nominated The Wailing Souls, and dancehall innovator Barrington Levy. In 2003, he wrote ONE LOVE: Life with Bob Marley and the Wailers, published by W.W. Norton and Sons. He lives today in Los Angeles, where he continues to produce films and create his large-scale painting and assemblage.