Artist’s pop-up hunger strike in Soho targets New Yorker magazine writer Tad Friend

Perry, second from left, says he’ll be a fixture in Petrosino Square until the New Yorker owns up to its mistakes.

Hunger in Soho? Impossible, except in Kenmare Square where artist and former substitute teacher John Perry is on Day 3 of his hunger strike. Perry is protesting Tad Friend’s New Yorker article from last summer, a piece Perry says killed his reputation, hurt his art career and left him without a steady teaching job. The story, “Sleeping with Weapons,” portrays Perry as a violent stalker whose threats chased former musician and actor John Lurie from Manhattan. On his blog, Perry writes that Friend helped Lurie’s “effort to destroy me through his campaign of slander and libel.”

In person, Perry says he wants his name cleared, and he’ll be taking in nothing but water and the hot sun until it is. Thankfully for Perry, he has the chain-link fence from New York City’s longest ongoing construction site. At 6’3″, Perry is a big man, even when he sits. Three friends are gathered around him to support his cause, and they’ve chalked Day 3 onto the pavement.

At the stomach of Perry’s hunger strike, he says, is the fact that Lurie is a slanderous liar and Friend knowingly passed along the slander. Like Julian Assange, Perry is using his Web site to bring to light supporting evidence like email exchanges with the New Yorker writer. One example Perry points to is Lurie’s claim that he used the younger artist’s phone to blow off a hot date the night Lurie and Perry’s close friendship broke apart. Phone records show no calls were made, and Perry says Friend ignored this piece of evidence along with many others.

“There are a lot of things in the article that are untrue but this was clearly proof,” Perry says. “In the end, it just came down to them bullying me. [The New Yorker] made a willful, conscious decision to say, ‘John Perry is expendable.’”

Lurie is the actor, artist and founder of legendary punk group Lounge Lizards who befriended Perry more than a decade ago. They were close, working together, eating together, playing heads-up poker – about as intimate as two men can be without crossing swords. In 2008, Perry asked Lurie to be his subject for a charcoal-drawing display he was going to use to sell PBS on a show about art instruction (like Bob Ross). During the shoot, the two discuss how tough it is to sit still for a long periods of time. Lurie, sick and ailing since 2002, bailed early, leaving Perry with $6,000 in studio, staff and equipment bills from the shoot. Perry lost a ticket to the primetime, blew up at Lurie and their friendship quickly unraveled.

Perry has frequent support from friends who feel New Yorker journalist Tad Friend and musician John Lurie are not telling the whole truth.

Ego sparring and unkind words
Over the next few days, the two Johns exchanged frequent emails. In one message, Lurie writes, “Your attitude towards me not being able to finish was really tough to take.” In another, Perry says, “I think its better we just leave each other alone. We both think we’ve tried our best in this relationship, yet we both continue to hurt each other.” Then over the next month, they each insist on having the last word. Lurie calls Perry a bitch, and Perry accuses Lurie of falling asleep during the shoot, not getting sick.

In August 2010, Friend detailed the falling out. Perry claims the New Yorker writer cherry-picked quotes to make him look like a more violent, cruel and threatening man than he really is. “I did say not-nice things. I did make him feel like he was in danger. I did try to scare him,” Perry says from the bricks of Petrosino Square. “But I didn’t threaten his life.” He also says that the private detectives Lurie hired to track him found nothing to suggest he was stalking Lurie. Friend notes this in the piece, but Perry says that article has ruined his reputation and is tired of people Googling him and having “Lurie decide who I am.”

After “Sleeping with Weapons” came out, Perry says the Robert F. Kennedy Jr. school on 88th St. stopped calling him with substitute-teacher assignments. He says his art stopped selling and much of his social circle broke away from him. So while Lurie stays holed in California, Perry will be bronzed and hungry in Kenmare Square.

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