The Mad Potter, aka Dr. George Gladstone, Talks Funk Art, Big Foot, and Paul Kilduff for President
Clayton Bailey, in other words, lets it go.
It’s hard to pigeonhole artist Clayton Bailey. Known initially for his often-humorous ceramic work, such as the Urn for the Unconceived—a vessel that among other things honors the sperm and eggs that do not unite—and as a founding member of the UC Davis art department’s Funk art movement of the 1960s, Bailey also makes robots and other metal sculptures from found materials. The artist may be best known, though, for his alter ego, notorious Big Foot hunter Dr. George Gladstone, who claims to have unearthed the creature’s bones and droppings back in the mid-1970s. Unlike many artists who sit by the phone waiting for a museum to call, Bailey opened his own to display his work in downtown Crockett. It’s not far from the home and studio he shares on the outskirts of nearby Port Costa with his longtime wife and fellow artist, Betty. What makes Bailey and his robots tick? I called the “Mad Potter” of Port Costa recently seeking answers to this and other questions.
Paul Kilduff: Can you describe your artwork in one sentence?
Clayton Bailey: Sometimes, I say, “Come and see the ceramic wonders.” We’ve often used the word wonders. When you come in, you can be wondering, “Why would anybody do that?”
PK: There’s definitely a sense of whimsy about it.
CB: Yeah. We want it to be entertaining. We want it to
PK: You have an ongoing interest in robots. The functional robots that are being designed today don’t seem to have much style. How do you feel about that?
CB: Well, I love the fact that they’ve figured out how to make a robot deliver a bomb and blow up a crook. When I first got into this robot idea, it was because we had a museum of oddities. We made a robot that walked around on two feet
in the street and brought people into the museum. That’s the reason that I made my first robot. At that time, in 1975, the idea that a robot could walk around on two legs was just really far out. I never thought it could actually happen. We would try to make people believe that it did actually happen. We had a person in the robot actually walking around and trying to hypnotize people. It was trying to take your money and tell you to go see the museum. Now, 35 years later, Google is making that kind of stuff. Boston Dynamics, they make those robots that look like horses and dogs—very, very creepy.
PK: As a robot veteran, have you been contacted by any of these new companies to design robots?
CB: No. I don’t really want to. Some years ago, a friend wanted me to work with him on designing a robot pet, but I like the freedom of working alone and just working on my fantasies. To collaborate with somebody else, or to do a commission, would turn the whole thing into a job. That isn’t my idea of what I want to do.
PK: Your alter ego, Dr. George Gladstone, has he hung up his pith helmet for good? Is he going to resurface?
CB: Actually, I think he is going to reappear. He’s going to expose how Clayton has been trying to steal all of his ideas and take credit for his work. Dr. Gladstone has been mainly behind the scenes to be talked about without being seen. I think he’s going to try to get his name in the headlines again. Did you know he was nominated for a Nobel Prize?
PK: I did not know that.
CB: In 1976, for inventing “Kaolism.” Kaolism is the thermal metamorphosis of mud, which results in scientific meaning.
PK: I see. Has there even been any interest in making a film about Dr. Gladstone’s theories?
CB: Not by any legitimate person.
PK: Maybe Dr. Gladstone needs an agent. You need to get some bit parts for that guy.
CB: By the way, is it true that you’re running for president and you’re accepting donations?
PK: That is quite true.
CB: I’m going to send you a lot of money.
CB: You said you’re going to give it back if you don’t win.
PK: Yeah, it’s all guaranteed—if I don’t win, you get you cash back, no questions asked. What other candidate offers that kind of ironclad deal?
CB: That’s a lot better deal than the last guy, Lowell Darling. He took the money and went to Lower Slobbovia.
PK: I interviewed him actually, but I have a lot more integrity—obviously. Getting back to Dr. Gladstone, he, of course, found Big Foot’s remains and put them on display in your museum. But is there more than one Big Foot out there? Is it a species, or a one-off?
CB: Well, yeah. There’s a lot of questions like that. For example, we’ve got a female skeleton on exhibit in our museum in Crockett. We have the nest. Did you know that Big Foot laid eggs?
PK: Again, you’ve stumped me.
CB: They have a nest with eggs in it. Then, we have the Big Foot dropping, and we have the various tools that you use to collect droppings. One of the remarkable things that we learned from the female skeleton is that they are identified by their high heels—they have a high-heeled bone.
PK: You’ve got a very distinctive look featuring a Fu Manchu mustache. Do you participate in beard competitions? They’re very popular right now.
CB: Well, I never have. It’s a coincidence. Just a couple of days ago, somebody wrote to me about my mustache. For the heck of it, I looked up the world record Fu Manchu mustache and I think I could’ve beat him if I’d been there.
PK: I have no doubt. When’s the last time that wasn’t trailing down past your jaw line? Back in the ’60s?
CB: It’s pretty much been untrimmed since about 1970.
PK: Wow. Do you use the mustache wax on it?
CB: You really have to use something to keep it clumped together or it gets caught in your zippers and tools and catches on fire. So I use the heavy-duty super mousse I think they call it. It’s a jelly—probably made out of boiled ox feet.
PK: I think it would be fair to say that your Fu Manchu rivals that of Broadway Joe Willie Namath. Do you remember his?
CB: Oh, yeah, it’s way beyond that. It’s way beyond Salvador Dali’s.
PK: No question.
CB: Anybody could do this. You just have to let it go.
For more Kilduff, visit the “Kilduff File Super Fan Page” on Facebook.
This report appears in the September edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.
Published online on Sept. 21 2016 at 8:00 a.m.