Portraits of rock stars comprise a significant percentage of Ms. Slick's oeuvre. Such luminaries as Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin and Sting appear in numerous portraits, while stars such as Peter Townshend, Madonna, Frank Zappa, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley and Patti Smith are less prominently represented.
By employing four varied methodologies to characterize Jimi Hendrix, Slick reveals her raison d' arte. Rasta Jimi-painted in circa 1910 style portraits à la Alexej von Jawlensky, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Henry Matisse - demonstrates Slick's use of Fauvist palette. Der Blaue Reiter's forceful paint application echoes in this psychedelic upheaval coming from deep within the soulful roots from which Jimi's music sprang. In a piece entitled "Hendrix Solid Color" the use of flat colors applied smoothly conveys an inner strength, a coolness, the detachment of stardom, isolation. "Jimi the Fop" is a satirical retro-chuckle over the hallucinatory-pimp get-up that Hendrix had designed for himself to maintain his dominant rule over the realm of mod fashion. In the light and lyrical, "Hendrix 1969," a befringed Jimi strikes a simultaneous pose and a chord on the guitar. Painted from photos shot at Woodstock during Jimi's rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner," the piece is reminiscent of Southwestern depictions of Native Americans and is far less stony than the other three. A shifting perception seems to be at the core of Slick's work, a desire, not to find the view that is most apropos, but rather to express the entire range of her contradictory impressions.
In "White Rabbit in Wonderland," rock stars, drug gurus, storybook characters, and animals collide in a psychedelic mushroom-filled Big Sur seascape. The White Rabbit scampers into the sunset on a cobblestone path that disappears behind a grassy knoll where a golden-robed Ram Dass, in the role of The Caterpillar, sits in a lotus position smoking a hookah on a kitchen-table-sized psilocybin mushroom, sinking as if into a beanbag into the puffy cap as he signals to spectators with a V-fingered peace salute. Timothy "The Mad Hatter" Leary, clad in top hat, mourning coat, skintight Levis and sneakers, sprawls on the foreground lawn grinning and waving directly to the viewer. Perched atop a white-dotted-red-capped-'shroom, Alice (as herself) gazes toward the fleeing bunny, leaning forward resting her hand on a tree, her body language tense, trying to capture a fleeting moment. The Dormouse, noshing hallucinatory fungi on a mouse-size mushroom stool, also watches the hare disappear, but unlike the anxious Alice, observes the scene with Zen-like stoicism. Poking at forty-five degree angles from behind a tree, Paul "Tweedle Dum" McCartney's head stacks directly over John "Tweedle Dee" Lennon's beanied nogin. John holds a psilocybin mushroom by the stem as both twins leer from Wonderland into the space of the beholder. Upon a branch of tree, the Cheshire Cat, who has been curiously replaced by a raccoon, also gazes laconically toward the viewer. This piece would seem to be entirely created in jest, yet Alice's angst disturbs her idyllic world as the other characters - with the exception of the Dormouse and White Rabbit - seem more interested in spectatorial space than occupying pictorial space. This allegorically illustrates the free and spiritual aspects of the psychedelic experience, while simultaneously exposing the disquieting displacement one experiences after the initial elation when one does indeed, "break on through to the other side."
Perhaps the most expressive, interesting and well-studied works of Grace Slick are her self-portraits. In "Red Queen," Grace paints herself, perhaps, at a time just prior to becoming sober (she did not begin painting in earnest until after she stopped drinking). She seems to be stuck inside a chair that grasps her hips. With a contrapposto twist of her foreshortened torso, she attempts in vain to pull away. Calling to someone off-canvas (maybe the viewer) in an aggravated bossy manner, she thrusts a near-empty wine bottle forward. During a 3 1/2 hour phone conversation, Grace told me that she was too lazy to get up and was calling for someone to bring her more wine. Grace as the cranky white-haired sot draws sharp contrast to the playfully sexy and girlish self-portrait dressed in a Girl Scout uniform titled, "Scout." In the way she peers from the canvas directly at the viewer, one gets the impression that he or she may be the one being scouted. "White Rabbit's" popularity was so ubiquitous that Grace became the Queen of Psychedelia, so the irony of her wearing a Girl Scout uniform and feigning innocence was not lost on many hipsters. It dovetailed with a continuing counterculture trend of re-associating time-honored-industrial-complex images with yippy absurdities.
Hunter S. Thompson, with his Gonzo Journalism, tapped into his wild imagination and hallucinations using them as the lens through which he reported on sporting events and political campaigns. I touched base with Hunter, before talking to grace, to hear the approach that he would take in such a legendary encounter. It appears Mr. Thompson has had a huge crush on Grace that has persisted for decades - and his particular interest is with Scout.
Besides her main interest in expressing herself artistically and the necessity of generating income, Slick has a compulsive drive that needs directing. Grace Slick rises daily at 4 a.m. and draws and paints nearly the whole day. We discussed neurological and genetic reasons for this impulse as well as the prescription drugs that help contain her tendency to be naturally wired. Mania is a split-bristle brush. On one hand they are often accompanied by elation and prodigious production, yet that same euphoria can flip into a metallic grinding in the marrow. For Grace pain is her bugaboo, her fear and source of longing for relief. Grace has had twenty operations, which places her in close range with another famous woman and artist, Frida Kahlo, who had Munchausens disease, a hypochondriacal disorder, in which one compulsively seeks medical attention. Besides elaborating on this aspect of her art, various philosophical strategies, her relationship to animals, her family, and prescriptions for healing society, she spoke of many other concerns far beyond the scope and size of this article.