Funkin’ Up Fine Art: The Psychedelic Visions of George Clinton

Art from the Mothership

The P-Funk pioneer has become an accomplished painter and visual artist, expanding his universe on canvas

In 2019, George Clinton announced a farewell tour that was supposed to end with his retirement. Then the pandemic happened — and somehow, when everyone reemerged into civilization two years later, the funk legend had not only not retired, he had another profession: as a veritable, gallery-represented painter. He’d always been a fan of visual artists like Overton Loyd and the late Pedro Bell, who helped create the look and mythology of his pioneering bands Parliament and Funkadelic. Now, he says, the pandemic had allowed him to explore his own visual style. “I suddenly had time to work on that seriously,” says Clinton, 81. “It was a blessing. I wasn’t going to be bored.”

Earlier this winter, Clinton showed his work at an exhibition called “The Rhythm of Vision” at the Jeffrey Deitch Gallery in Los Angeles. (Incidentally, the Santa Monica Boulevard building that houses the gallery used to be a recording studio where he made music decades earlier.) His paintings feature novel motifs as well as some that longtime fans will recognize: Spaceships, aliens, and other themes from the P-Funk universe feel like an extension of the aesthetic that Clinton has cultivated since the 1960s. But painting is new for him, and that means it’s fun. “I feel like a little kid,” Clinton says. “Seven o’clock in the morning and I’m running down to the art room to come up with a new ‘hit record.’ ”

Many of the paintings are testaments to his ongoing fight to reclaim his own work. For many years, Clinton and his collaborators have been working to get back the rights to much of their catalog; when an old song’s ownership is returned, Clinton says, he plays it while he paints. One such work contains the legal phrase “There is no partnership in the ownership of the Mothership.” “I’ve been fighting over these things for the last 30 years,” he says with a tired smile.” So, I’ve been celebrating all of that and doing the art thing at the same time.”

He and Loyd — who also worked on some of the pieces in the exhibition — gave RS a virtual tour of some of Clinton’s artworks, sharing the ideas behind the images and the techniques used to create their final, funkified yet dignified forms.