Chicago artist Pedro Bell, designer of trippy album covers for George Clinton, Funkadelic, has died

Calling him an inspiration, fellow artist Tony Fitzpatrick said, ‘I think George Clinton could not have found a better interpreter for what he was doing.’

SHARE Chicago artist Pedro Bell, designer of trippy album covers for George Clinton, Funkadelic, has died
Artist Pedro Bell, seen in 2009, did the original work for many George Clinton and Funkadelic albums.

Artist Pedro Bell, seen in 2009, did the original work for many George Clinton and Funkadelic albums.

Jean Lachat / Sun-Times

Pedro Bell, the Chicago artist who helped create a powerfully trippy mythos for George Clinton and Funkadelic, designing colorful album covers that looked as if they might have been birthed in outer space, died Tuesday at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park, according to his younger brother Maillo Tsuru.

Mr. Bell, 69, who’d been in declining health, suffered a cardiac arrest. He’d been living the past nine years at Chicago Ridge Nursing & Rehab Center and was receiving kidney dialysis three times a week, his younger brother said.

Because he’d lost his vision, he no longer had been creating the art he was known for, according to his brother.

“It was psychedelic from a black perspective,” Mr. Bell said in a 2009 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times of his work.

Despite his afflictions, his caregivers’ nickname for him was “Trouble,” according to Tsuru. “He used to take cans [of a nutritional beverage] and toss them at the nursing stations,” he said. “He would shake them up so they’re good and fuzzy and toss them at the nursing station as he rolled by.”

Mr. Bell was raised in a family who encouraged drawing and creativity.

“We grew up being artists,” said Tsuru, a Lakewood, Colorado, artist.

Their younger brother Bruce was a bus driver for 30 years for the CTA.

Young Pedro went to Harper High School in West Englewood, then studied art at Bradley University and Roosevelt University.

Tsuru said their mother was a registered nurse and follower of the Mormon faith. Their father was a Baptist preacher. Mr. Bell once told interviewer Abdel Shakur, an English teacher at Evanston Township High School, that his phantasmagorical creations and art were inspired by stories from his father’s Bible.

”He used to read Genesis, and that turned me on to dinosaurs and Godzilla,” he said. “I also got turned on to Latin, and that’s where I came up with the idea of having a ‘Rumpasaurus.’ Revelations was all about the future, which lead me to reading a lot of science fiction.”

Pedro Bell, in 2009, with some of his creations.

Pedro Bell, 2009, with some of his creations.

Jean Lachat / Sun-Times

In 2009, when Mr. Bell was nearly broke and living at the Hyde Park Arms, a single-room-occupancy hotel at 53rd Street and Harper Avenue., he told the Sun-Times he hadn’t profited financially from his artistic association with some of the primogenitors of Afrofuturistic funk and soul.

Talking about how he started, he said he offered to create art for Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic after hearing their music on WXFM, known as Triad, an underground 1970s Chicago radio station. “I found the record company and sent a letter and said I wanted to do stuff,” he said, and began by doing concert posters and playbills.

Artist Pedro Bell’s original work from the Funkadelic album “The Electric Spanking of War Babies.”

Artist Pedro Bell’s original work from the Funkadelic album “The Electric Spanking of War Babies.”

Jean Lachat / Sun-Times

“George Clinton liked the streetwise mutant style and asked him to do the ‘Cosmic Slop’ album cover in 1973. That was the moment Funkadelic became everything we think about them being,” according to Mr Bell’s biography on the website for George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic. “What Pedro Bell had done was invert psychedelia through the ghetto. Like an urban Hieronymus Bosch, he cross-sected the sublime and the hideous to jarring effect.”

In a post Tuesday night, the Facebook page for Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic referred to him by his artist’s name, Sir Lleb — that’s Bell spelled backward: “RIP to Funkadelic album cover illustrator Pedro Bell (1950-2019). Rest easy, Sir Lleb!”

Going by Sir Lleb, Mr. Bell would write album liner notes using punny phraseology and terms like “Funkapus” and “Thumpasaurus.”

Pedro Bell in 2009 at the single-room-occupancy hotel where, near broke, he was living.

Pedro Bell in 2009 at the single-room-occupancy hotel where, near broke, he was living.

Jean Lachat / Sun-Times

His work was included with pieces by Andy Warhol and Ed Paschke in a 2007-2008 exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art titled “Sympathy for the Devil: Art and Rock ’n’ Roll Since 1967.”

Even while turning out cover art, Mr. Bell told the Sun-Times, he still had to hold down jobs as a security guard, with the post office and at an auto parts manufacturer.

He said his funk-tastic philosophy came down to: “Free your mind, and the rest will follow” and “when you’re going down, you’re still up.”

“We believed where the funk was going to take us,” he said.

“He kicked the door open,” said Tony Fitzpatrick, who said Mr. Bell’s imaginative cover art, “fun and so colorful,” helped inspire him to become an artist.

When he was a high school student dreaming of doing LP art, “They kind of set me free,” said Fitzpatrick, who counts about 70 album covers among his work.

“Nobody ever matched the subtext better than him,” the Chicago artist said. “I think George Clinton could not have found a better interpreter for what he was doing.

“Pedro Bell was only like himself,” he said.

In addition to his brothers, Mr. Bell is survived by a son Derrick, according to Maillo Tsuru. He said his brother will be cremated and that no services are planned.

Pedro Bell in 2009, then near-broke and living in a single-room-occupancy hotel in Hyde Park.

Pedro Bell in 2009, then near-broke and living in a single-room-occupancy hotel in Hyde Park.

Jean Lachat / Sun-Times

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