Grace Slick's new career: painting portraits of fellow rockers

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Associated Press

She once performed topless in the rain so she wouldn't ruin her silk blouse, and she threatened to spike President Nixon's tea with LSD.

But that was a lifetime ago for Grace Slick, the steely psychedelic rocker who added enough salt to her words to wither a seasoned sailor.

These days, she has tamed that wild child. And she has turned to painting to get her creative urges out.

While Slick says she finds inspiration everywhere - in animals, in her friends and in her emotions - her bestselling works are portraits of the rock stars she knew in the 1960s. Jimi Hendrix. Janis Joplin. Jerry Garcia.

She has sold about 60 paintings in the past year. They're a mix of sizes, styles and mediums: oil and acrylic, pencil and ink. She studies as many photographs of her subjects "as humanly possible," then tries, she says, to add "my own memory of how they were, how I felt around them."

Slick studied art for a half-semester in College in Miami, "not because I wanted to be an artist, but because it was easy. I have some talent in drawing and I was at the University of Miami to play,"she says.

But she also never studied music and to this day cannot read a single note. Persistence has gotten her everywhere, she says.

She's especially proud of a Hendrix portrait that uses bold splashes of bright colors against a black background. She also likes a painting of Bob Dylan holding a cross in one hand and a Star of David in the other.

There are two portraits of Joplin in her show at San Francisco's Artrock gallery that runs through December. One is in hues of blue with a smiling Janis holding maracas and another is a close-up of her face with vegetation coming out of her head.

Back in the late '60s and early '70s, Slick and Joplin were the high priestesses of rock - spontaneous, outrageous, wise-cracking mamas who grabbed life by the heels and shook it dry. But while Joplin was troubled, fragile in a way, Slick was more centered. She boozed and drugged with the best of them; said anything, did anything and wore anything - or nothing. And she survived, from Jefferson Airplane to Starship to her own short-lived solo career.

Now 61, the aging rocker has adapted an artful look. Her shoulder-length, straight hair is completely white - she says she had been dying it since her mid-20s - and sets off her violet-blue eyes.

Striking and statuesque, Slick could be a model once again - a profession she tried briefly before turning to music.

After a foray into pop with Starship in the 1980s, Slick quit the music business a decade ago and became a painter. She spends an average of about a week on each painting and cranks out about 100 a year.

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