Photo courtesy of NeueHouse
George Clinton may not always know what he wants, but he wants what he feels – and that vision has always been instinctively clear. “It’s all new to me, you know?” the founder of Parliament-Funkadelic told VICE during a Zoom call from the band’s tour bus, as we talked about his new foray into painting and take the road (again) with the band that started the funk genre. Starting to paint professionally was a decision that felt less like a lightning bolt for Clinton than a slow, smooth trickle. “I feel through it. It became my outlet because of the pandemic, when I had to slow down – to Sit down,” he said. That’s no small feat, for a man who embarked on high-energy movements for most of the 20th century, from the belly of the P-Funk Mothership at the 2020 march on washington. If that was groundbreaking, then the godfather of funk was probably there to spread the love and, of course, the funk. Now, for the first time, his Afrofuturist works are exhibited in Light years at NeueMaison Madison Square.
Musically, Clinton’s trajectory has been nothing short of kaleidoscopic, beginning with a foundation in doo-wop and Motown, and evolving into that inimitably tacky Parliament-Funkadelic collective sound that blends elements of jazz, blues , R&B and psychedelic rock like Laffy Taffy. . “It’s a sound as much as a way of life,” Clinton said. “I think it’s the same when I paint. I’m still processing the “What does this mean?” question that people like to ask. But before any kind of intellectualization, comes the feeling.
Since the 1970s, this cosmic intuition has helped make Clinton a barometer of cool, and guided him to a career of unparalleled eclecticism, work with James Brown and 14-time Grammy winner Kendrick Lamar have a role in the Trolls 2: World Tour film (which slams, by the way). No creative outlet is too far for Clinton, which is likely why he’s always been one step ahead of the game.
“I was hooked on styles and costumes early on. I can do shock therapy really well, you know?” he talks about his dripping and playful style. “[Change] from wearing diapers to sheets to really slick leather suits and furry things. I can go from one to the other without batting an eyelid. A lot of it probably had to do with psychedelic stuff [Parliament-Funkadelic] was involved, where everything was beautiful. You didn’t have too many ugly things on acid, so we tried to put that to the test and get as good looking and as ugly as possible. We did it with the visuals and with the music. And now I think I do with my art.
To celebrate his final creative chapter and in anticipation of Father’s Day, VICE spoke with the godfather of funk about the creative elements that have meant the most to him over the years — the ones your own music-loving pops would probably love — like as well as her most iconic fashion moments, and when the aliens will teleport us the funk already standing up.
VICE: Congratulations on Light years, George. Can you tell me more about how your career as a painter was built?
George Clinton: First of all I’m colorblind [laughs]. But I stay on the same rhythm that I have with the music: I just do what I feel, and what makes me feel good, and I think, Go for the rest.
I just started scribbling autographs. People were like, “Hey, can you put the dog on this?” because they had seen [my dog drawings]. It became a freestyle trick that worked. It was like having a whole new career, and this past year has been so exciting with the exhibitions. And the music comes back at the same time, so I can do both. It’s fantastic. Especially since I started selling the paints for big bucks and was like, oh shit, this really works! [Laughs.]
What mediums do you work with?
Acrylic, chalk, pencil, markers, spray paint – whatever comes to hand.
Looking back, how important were the visuals in the Parliament-Funkadelic universe?
Oh, we were known to work with artists like Overton Loyd who did the album cover for Mr Nose and Engine Booty Deal. He lived with me. He was kind of teaching me the basics of the art – and that’s when I realized, oh shit, I’m really color blind – but I also learned.
The other thing that helps the [painting] process is that I was a barber. I didn’t need to know colors to blend something as a barber or to shade something. So I started linking this process to painting, which is a lot like sculpting a haircut; you find the values of different tones and shades, get the sensations of lights and darks and in between.
Do you think your art is a translation of funk on canvas?
I’m sure. I’m also a science fiction enthusiast, so I immersed myself in the atmosphere of outer space, and what I perceive as alien arrivals in the paintings. You will see my interpretations of what we call the Dogonwho [located] the planet Sirius, and their artwork and masks [blended] with different life forms entering and exiting the portals. So that’s a big part of what I consciously think about when I paint.
How has your sense of personal style evolved inside and outside the genre? Are they identical?
I’m still analyzing it all. Try to make some kind of logic out of it. But yeah, I think that’s the funk I can rely on. You have to do everything with confidence. I’ve never been married to any particular style, and as soon as I saw [an aesthetic] needed to be changed or was about to be, I was able to adapt very quickly.
Speaking of style, if I had to give my funk-loving dad George Clinton and P-Funk style essentials, what would they be?
Oh, it could be a diaper. It could be a long blonde wig. It can be a leaf. I’ll try just about anything, and lately I’m really into science fiction, so I try to find things that represent that era.
What are you listening to right now?
From time to time, I re-educate myself on old styles, as they become new for young children. I listened to jazz R&B records and Kendrick Lamar’s new album – it’s way off what I expected it to do. I saw he was traveling when I worked with him on Pimp a butterflyand now it is coming.
Which musical instruments and tools do you think make the best gifts?
Oh, that would be a keyboard. One of the most futuristic. Synthesizers. Guitars are also my favorite; you can make a lot of noise on the guitar and then get into so many styles on a keyboard.
Have you heard of those plant sensibility music devices from the Plantasia time?
Yeah, I can believe it. All life must be a sort of receptacle for sound and frequencies. In the 1960s, it was all about not walking on the grass. Everyone was obsessed with all the life forms there were. [Laughs.] Like I said, I’m into science fiction, and I think we’re getting ready to jump the planet. The binary thing is preparing to open up to the universe.
Do you think we should be worried?
No, I’m inside. I want it to hurry.
Speaking of not walking on the grass, what are your favorite ways to relax?
Roll me a big one, get out my brush.
It’s the coldest thing you can do. Kick back with a big one, throw some paint and feel the images. That’s my thrill right now, and it’s only just begun.
Rec Room staff independently curated all items featured in this story. Want more reviews, recommendations and great deals? Subscribe to our newsletter.