Cape Cod Times interviews Grace Slick  
A new career takes flight

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By KEN CAPOBIANCO

For music fans weaned on Green Day, Avril Lavigne and Nelly, the name Grace Slick barely garners a hint of recognition. But for baby boomers, Slick is a seminal figure of the Vietnam-era rock music scene. As the vocalist for Jefferson Airplane and later as part of Jefferson Starship, Slick helped create some of the most evocative and influential music of the '60s and '70s.

With the 1967 album ''Surrealistic Pillow'' and hits ''White Rabbit'' and ''Somebody to Love,'' Jefferson Airplane was at the forefront of the psychedelic-rock movement. Slick was the focal point thanks to her distinctive, sultry, soaring vocals.

But Slick, who gave up the rock game in 1979, has been carving out a different career for herself over the past 10 years. The former singer has been creating a solid body of work as an artist specializing in portraits and fanciful animal drawings. She'll exhibit her work at two Boston-area galleries this weekend.

Among the people Slick has drawn portraits of are rock musicians Sting, Pete Townshend, Jimi Hendrix and Jerry Garcia. Her work offers precise, faithful renderings of her subjects, many of whom were her peers during the hazy, crazy drug-induced days of the '60s. Slick's portraits offer little ironic distance and few stylistic flourishes; her other drawings often are more whimsical and elaborate.

''When did I start doing this?'' Slick ponders momentarily before adding, ''I'd say when I was 2 years old.''

You can wait for the rim shot, but it will never come.

''I'm serious. I think that it all started when I was very young, and I began to draw animals, and I knew that it was something that I wanted to do.''

She says that she didn't go back to drawing until the mid-'90s.

''For a simple reason - I'm just not a multitasker. I can't do two things at once and be good at them. I do one thing at a time: one man, one job, one car, one house,'' she says, while letting out a huge laugh.

Slick's voice is still husky and bold, and she talks like someone who lived, thrived and survived through the most hectic and tumultuous period of rock music. She's declarative and no-nonsense in what she says and how she says it.

  White Rabbit by Grace Slick

''The thing for me is that I need to communicate. For a long time it was through music, and now it is through my art,'' she says. ''You don't want me to fix your television or do your taxes. But create, that I can do. Many people have different sides to their talents. Jonathan Winters is a great comedian, but he's also a brilliant artist. Look at Miles Davis or Tony Bennett. Great musical talents, but also gifted artists.

''I just think it comes down to the fact that some people just need to communicate and express themselves.''

She says her agent piqued her interest in doing portraits of musicians after she began to start drawing again. ''I thought that it would be a cliché, you know, the rock musician drawing the rock musician, but once I began work on them and really took a shine to it, I realized that there was something really there.''

Now that she has built a body of work, she works only by commission and prefers to focus on single portraits. ''It's back to the one-thing-at-a-time thing in my psyche. Animals, people, whatever. When you think about it, so much classical painting is one-person portraits. Think 'Girl with the Pearl Earring,' or those great portraits of presidents, kings or important figures throughout history. It's kind of a way to document a period.''

Slick says she hasn't heard from many of the figures she has drawn. ''Well, a lot of them are dead, like Jimi and Jerry and Jim Morrison, but I haven't heard from Sting. Although Pete Townshend told me that his was the best portrait he's had done yet, so that's flattering. And, you know, and this surprises people, I've never spoken to Bob Dylan in my life. Never met him. Joan Baez either. Just the way life worked out.''

One of her new projects is a large canvas depiction of backstage at the Monterrey Pop Festival.

'It's the most ambitious thing I've done and, yeah, I know it veers from the 'one person at a time' thing I was talking about, but this can be like a pleasant Hieronymous Bosch thing - only without people eating each other.

''I've got Neil Young, Garcia, Cass Elliott, David Crosby, Jimi, Gandhi, just everyone is represented, and it's a really cool snapshot through my eyes of what I think was the greatest festival.''

As for music, Slick says that she pays attention to what is out now but really isn't interested in a lot of what she hears. ''Rap is like a lot of things - there's some good and some bad. I don't mind it, but I don't go out of my way to find it,'' she says, diplomatically.

Most of the music she listens to is Spanish or multicultural. ''I'm living in Southern California now, and that's just inherent in this climate, and some of it is great. I love flamenco.''

Those who wonder about a Jefferson Airplane or Starship reunion can continue to dream.

''Never happen,'' she says flatly. ''First, with Airplane, we swore that it would never happen unless it was Paul (Kantner), Jorma (Kaukonen), Spencer (Dryden), Jack (Hunter) and me. It wouldn't be real, and with Spencer gone (he died in 2005), that's not possible.''

She pauses and continues with emphasis, ''And with anything else, let's face it, I'm 67. It would be like a 24-year-old going back to play jacks with grammar school kids. I just think it's inappropriate.

''That may be a weird word coming from me, because for us, appropriate was always a questionable thing. ... If Mick and Keith from the Stones want to do it, more power to them, but for me, it was time to move on.''

 
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