Grace Slick Former rocker turning creative powers toward art


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Kathryn M. Nichols

On the phone, Grace Slick sounds just as you'd expect an outspoken former rock 'n' roll star to sound: forthright and feisty, even at age 60.

But it's not her past with Jefferson Airplane that makes Slick tick these days-she's been there, done that.

Slick is now turning her considerable creative powers toward paint, pencil and canvas.

Some of the results will be seen at the Doubletree in downtown Monterey in a one-weekend-only exhibit that pairs Slick's work with that of the late Jerry Garcia, co-founder of the Grateful Dead, and who like Slick, got his start in San Francisco's flower-power era.

The showing of some 60 pieces features original artwork by Slick and Garcia as well as hand-signed, limited-edition prints. Fittingly, there will be a release of prints of a portrait of Garcia by Slick, a handsome black-and-white work.

The show is being brought to Monterey by Petaluma-based Area Gallery, which organized last year's Monterey exhibit of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's art and a showing of Miles Davis' work at the Monterey Jazz Festival.

Slick, who now lives in Malibu, said she has been dabbling in art for most of her life, but not in any serious way until the last few years.

It began as a form of therapy: "I had to send a guy packing," she said of a failed relationship. To cope with the emotional fallout, she began drawing animals, a subject near and dear to her heart.

She didn't think it was anything remarkable, but a friend with a gift store saw the drawings and wanted to put them in her shop. Slick agreed, and "it went from there," she said. "Now I've got an agent and everything, which cracks me up."

Slick is very fond of using oil pencils for drawing and loves pastels, but doesn't work in them often "because they're too unstable." Lately, she has begun to experiment with acrylic paints and has been pleased with the results.

"You can't make big sweeping gestures with the oil pencils," she said. "With acrylic, you can make big pictures with broad strokes."

Her days are mainly devoted to her art, with breaks to do basic housework-"I live by myself and I don't have a maid"-and for visits with her daughter, who lives nearby.

It's a rather different existence for Slick, who became known to an entire generation as the voice of the seminal '60s band Jefferson Airplane ("White Rabbit," "Don't You Want Somebody To Love") and then as part of Jefferson Starship with several 'Plane mates.

But it's been 10 years since she has been involved with music, and she said that part of her life is finished.

She wrote about it in a 1998 memoir with Andrea Cagan, "Somebody to Love?" which looked back on a lifetime of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. She had a ringside seat for some of the decade's most notorious high jinks - Haight-Ashbury, Woodstock, Monterey Pop, the sexual revolution, and, of course, '60s drug culture.

Now clean and sober, Slick still admits to being " a hedonistic pig" and said she loves the instant gratification she gets from the oil pencils.

"They're fabulous," she said. "There are 175 colors, no mixing, no mess or anything. They have the most amazing bright, rich colors."

Her subject matter includes fantasy pieces, as well as portraits of other musicians, such as her images of Garcia, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.

She also incorporates animals into many of her works - favorites are white lab rats and raccoons, "which have taught me the most. This is the way in which I honor them."
Garcia, whom she considered a close friend, died in 1995. Slick wanted to capture what she saw as his essence in her portraits.

"Most photographs of him make him look happy, but stupid," said Slick. "He was not the least bit stupid. And most of the photos were taken either really far away or really up close. Marijuana screws with your eyes, and he always looked like the village idiot."

So her portraits get rid of that stoned look, with Slick paying special attention to the eyes: "His eyes have to come from a knowledge of who he really is."

Garcia, of course, has been acknowledged as a visual artist in his own right. He began drawing at age 8 and in the late '50s, studied at the California School of Fine Art, now called the San Francisco Art Institute. Among his instructors were such acclaimed talents as Elmer Bischoff and Wally Hendrick.

'Their work goes really well together," said Scott Hann, owner of Area Gallery, of the Grace & Garcia combination, which had its first outing in a group show he organized in Florida in January. Hann specializes in musician's art, also representing work by Lennon, Ono and Miles Davis.

Actually, Slick finds it amusing that she is one of the few live artists Hann promotes.
"I told him, Scott, you represent dead people," she said. "This one is alive. You'll hear from this one." GO!

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