Surrealistic Grace Slick turns her attention
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Chris Macias

Grace Slick used to sing about white rabbits, but now she prefers to draw them. Slick ruled the rock 'n' roll stage in the 1960s as the frontwoman for San Francisco's Jefferson Airplane, belting out hits such as "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love." Her successful recording career continued through the '70s and '80s with Jefferson Starship, but she has traded the microphone for a set paintbrushes and oil pencils.

Slick spends nearly 10 hours each day at her Malibu home painting and sketching, and a collection of her artwork will be on display through Sunday at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.
Slick's artful ways started four years ago as a catharsis. A personal relationship was crumbling and Slick found that drawing animals helped cheer her up.

"I was really sad, and in order to keep from going nuts I started drawing things that make me happy," Slick said in a phone interview from her home. "I really had no intention of selling them."

Her focus on drawing furry animals soon expanded to fellow icons to the 1960s, including Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jerry Garcia. Slick also painted an "Alice in Wonderland"-themed picture, which featured John Lennon and Paul McCartney as Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and counterculture icon Timothy Leary as the Mad Hatter.

But the idea for posterizing rock stars didn't come from Slick. "I wrote a book ("Somebody to Love: A Rock-And-Roll Memoir")-one of those 'celebrity trash for cash' books-and the book agent suggested I draw rock 'n' roll people," Slick said. "I knew she was saying that because that's the sort of thing that sells. But at the same time, I thought it would be really interesting to get into the faces of people who are extreme-like Patti Smith-have very interesting faces, and eyes in particular,"

Slick didn't know all of her subjects well, and in the case of Miles Davis, she never met the legendary jazz musician to whom she later would pay tribute in paint.

The music of Miles Davis, Slick said, "got me going early on. I took acid and listened to 'Sketches of Spain' for 24 hours straight. It's burned into my brain. Years after that, I had to consciously not write songs in Spanish. Spanish music is so close to me. I don't know why. I'm Norwegian."

Slick also wasn't close to Hendrix, but their meetings during the 1960s created long- lasting impressions.

 

Janis Joplin by Grace Slick

Grace Slick on Cover

"What I saw of Hendrix over the years was this myriad of personalities," Slick said. "I've drawn about 10 different pictures of Hendrix. One is very straightand serious-looking, which occasionally he was. Another one was very bright and concerned, with him looking directly at you. Another one is in the music vein. It just depends what mode I'm thinking of at the time.

"The problem with being close to those people in the rock 'n' roll business is that we all sort of got popular at the same time," Slick said. "We were all on the road and didn't get to see each other much."

Deceased Grateful Dead guitarist Garcia, however, was one of Slick's good friends over the years. She has drawn six pictures of Garcia, in part because she always hated how dopey he looked in photographs.

"I knew him as very bright, funny and very intelligent," Slick said. "And the photographs I've seen of him made him look sort of sloppy. But if you smoke dope, you tend to look even dumber than you are. I've never seen a really good photo of him, so I drew him as I knew him, which was very alert and not the least bit stupid. I'd even used drugs with the man, but I never saw him looking that stupid."

Slick uses acrylic paints for some of her work, such as "Golden Gate Bridge," which shows a fellow jumping off the San Francisco landmark. But Slick prefers working with oil pencils because of their flexibility and wide palette.

"They're not messy," she said. "You don't have to sit there and mix colors because they come in about 175 colors. You just grab one, so whatever you're feeling right now you can do it 'right now.' When I want something, I want it right now. I don't want it in an hour."

As for Slick, 60, returning to music, don't count on it: "I don't like old people on a rock 'n' roll stage. What you're pretty much doing is imitating yourself at the age of 25, and there's basically nothing more pathetic."

So that leaves Slick with her oil pencils and brushes, and that's fine by her. Drawing and painting require a solitary artistic process, which in some ways is more fulfilling than singing, she said.

"Making music is more social because you're doing it with a band," Slick said. "But you have more control if it's print art because there aren't six different people wanting it six different ways."

Slick describes her most recent work with the type of tart and forthright language she's always been known for. "Saint Hermaphrodite' is either a man or a woman," she said. "it's both. It has a halo on and it has its head thrown back in ecstasy. And it is either giving birth or masturbating. All that's up to the viewer. So you can see, my brain will go anywhere."

How does Slick describe her artistic style? "I don't have one," she said. "Every artist wants to get a style, but I want to consciously stay away from that. Some artists lend themselves to very specific, very detailed lines. I would rather have the subject of the art direct what the style is. (At the showing) it'll look like the work of about 10 different people."

 
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