Janis Joplin Painted by Grace Slick   Bookmark and Share
Paul Liberatore

AFTER SEPT. 11, Grace Slick added a symbolic touch to a powerful and prescient portrait she'd done of Janis Joplin several years before.

The chalk-acrylic drawing shows a black-clad Janis on her knees, singing, a painted expression on her face, an American flag furled in the background. As rock fans know, Joplin died of a drug overdose in 1970 at the age of 27.

It's a very sad picture," Slick says from her home in Malibu. "I was trying to bring out Janis' ability to voice the drama and pathos in life. I tried to make her appearance look like what was coming out of her mouth and her heart."

In the original drawing, there was no flag. The retired rock singer turned visual artist felt compelled to add it seven months ago, for reasons unbeknownst to her. "I don’t know why I did

As it turned out, that painting became, to Slick, an expression of the universal pain the nation and much of the world felt after the terrorist attacks. But it needed one final element.that," she says. "Janis was not a political singer."

"When 9-11 happened, I'd seen a photograph of a flag at the World Trade Center that had been damaged and burned from the fire," she says. "It was a poignant thing to see that flag all covered with ashes. So I overpainted real ashes on the picture of Janis, who looks as if she's pleading with God, with anyone, to ease the pain."

Limited edition copies on canvas of that piece, titles "9-11," are priced at $911, with proceeds going to various charities. At Slick's Sausalito show, which open tomorrow at Fingerhut Gallery and runs through Feb. 3, the beneficiary will be the Center for Caregivers Training.

Sept. 11 also brought the erstwhile Jefferson Airplane/Starship singer out of retirement, at least for one L.A. show. She performed with former partner and bandmate Paul Kantner and their daughter, China, in a benefit concert for the New York firefighter's families. As a gesture of solidarity with the women of Afghanistan, she appeared covered head to toe with the kind of robe women were forced to wear by the Taliban.

"I came on stage and nobody knew who I was," she says. "Then I ripped off the robe, and I had an outfit on underneath with an American flag on the front and '……fear' on the back. I'm 62, an old fat lady with white hair, but they knew who I was then. It was fun to do."

Immortalized on classic hits such as "White Rabbit" and Somebody to Love," Slick was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.But since she stopped singing, the closest she gets to rock these days is drawing portraits of some of the superstars she knew in her heyday: Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Pete Townshend, Jerry Garcia.

"These people are fascinating because they have so many different aspects to them," she explains. "So I've done a number of pictures of the people I knew. With Garcia, I noticed that in almost all of the photographs of him, his eyes are too slitty. They weren't like that. So I drew the eyes that I remember. They're very bright and interested. The man was interested and interesting."

An icon of the counterculture, Slick has been known for her powerhouse singing voice, keen intelligence, sharp wit, and outrageous behavior, on and off stage, often fueled by alcohol.

A longtime resident of Marin, she moved to Southern California after a much-publicized incident in which she drunkenly pulled a shotgun on a Tiburon police officer.
Now that she's been sober and drug-free for several years, she can look back on that episode with some humor.

"That cost me $70,000," she says. "I'd rather use the money to expand my house."
Or draw. She is currently at work on a piece for the Art of Grammys exhibit in Los Angeles.

"It's a woman ascending with a guitar and dripping paint brushes," she explains. "It's a self portrait in a sense that she's looking up, and she's happy to go there. Usually with artists, you tend to go as close to the place where there might be God energy. You're going away from all the junk that goes on in your head that's not relevant, that's superfluous, because the main things in life are creation and, as Bob Dylan says, being of service."

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