Everybody knows about Grace Slick, the Jefferson Airplane singer who broke out of the mid-1960s San Francisco psychedelic scene with hits like “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love.”
Few know about Grace Slick, the artist, who will be exhibiting her works at Gallery 319 in Woodland Hills beginning Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013. Fans can meet her during a special public appearance from 6 to 9 p.m. Sept. 21 at the gallery 19720 Ventura Blvd, Woodland Hills, CA 91364.
While great art – especially of the literary variety – had a profound effect on her music, Slick's visual art is profoundly influenced by rock and roll, from which she derives an unambiguous energy.
LA.com chatted with Slick about everything from her career in music to the link between sonic and visual art, and even her early days as a fashion model.
This is a short version of the full interview, will be posted later.
LA.COM: There are quite a few musicians who are also artists. What do you think is the connection between art and music?
Grace Slick: Well, it's same part of the brain. In other words. if you said to me, "I'm sorry, you can't paint anymore,” then I'll be a set designer, (and if you say) “I'm sorry you can't' be a set designer,” then I'll write a book, (and if you say) “I'm sorry you can't write a book,” OK then … I could just go on.
The only art that I can't do is dance because I'm a spastic. I don't know if it's inner ear, but I can walk into walls just walking around my house. So that's the only art that I wouldn't do. I don't even care which art it is as long as I'm doing something, because if I'm not creating something, I get kind of nuts.
LA.COM: Are you more disciplined as an artist or musician?
Grace Slick: It's pretty much the same in both areas. I keep going and keep at it until I get what I like. It may take an hour, or it may take weeks. It's always different.
LA.COM: You went to school for art, and your mother was a musician?
Grace Slick: Well no, she was a singer. But like me, she couldn't read music – she was just a singer.
When I went to see Jefferson Airplane play at a small club in San Francisco, I thought – see, I was a model at the time – and I thought, “That looks like a lot more fun.” And I was on my feet eight hours a day as a model, and I hate that. I've got dumb feet. That's probably why I can't dance: dumb feet.
But anyway, I looked at them and thought, “They can drink and smoke, and they only have to work for a couple of hours, and they hang out. And my mother was a singer. I can do that. And you know you're young and stupid, and you think you can do anything.But it turned out pretty well. (Laughs) So I went into it, not as a classical musician, because I'm not really a musician as much as I'm a fuck-off who can carry a tune.
LA.COM: Your take on “Alice in Wonderland” is about following your curiosity to see where it leads.
Grace Slick: Yes, that's just my take on it. It looks like, to me, the White Rabbit is always ahead of her, and she's following him. I believe he represents her curiosity.
And the thing is, life is real short. And I like her because she chooses to follow her curiosity, even though it gets kind of gnarly from time to time.
And I identify with her drug use, too. And our parents didn't really notice that. The song “White Rabbit” is kind of written at the parents. They are the ones that read these stories to us. And she takes approximately five different drugs. And it's not just a glass of water and a piece of cake. She literally gets high. She gets so high she can't get out of the rooms she is in.
So she takes another drug, to come back down. Then she is so small, she gets swept away by this kind of river-type arrangement. Then she meets all these creatures, and some of them are a little scary, and some of them are comical and weird, but she keeps on going.
There is also political stuff going on, the Red Queen represents, in this country it would be corporations. In England (Europe) it was kings and queens, and the power that they have. Corporations, too. There isn't much we can do about it. And you just get frustrated, and the ability of a ruler to say, “Off with their heads” – that's what (the Red Queen) says in the book. And Alice is like, "What?" so she keeps on going regardless of how ugly or weird it gets. And it's the only story where there is no Prince Charming to save her. That, I thought when I was in my 20s, is something that I wished every woman should have read and understood.
LA.COM: Going back to the period of the mind-expanding '60s, did you capture any of your visions on canvas, or paint in that state?
Grace Slick: Somewhat yes, I have done several hundred, at least 500, maybe a thousand pieces in the last 15 years, or whatever it's been. And some of them have the aura, so to speak, as best you can get it.
In color, (I) try to represent the swirling atmosphere. It's hard to describe. Colors do get different. For different people, it's different. At one point, everything was outlined in red and green. It was like stripes, both only it was outlined. Every single thing was outlined, which is interesting, and at other times a bush will fade into a house in these swirly colors – and not red and green.
At one point, I was high I was in Tiburon, California, and we had all taken some acid, and we were walking down the road, and I saw these colors, and they were largely pastels. And they existed at different levels, and they were coming toward me, and I thought, “Okay.”
I wondered if that was different forms or speeds of wind. So I licked my finger and stuck it up to the first one that came, and sure enough my finger got cold. And I thought, “Wow, that's interesting.” Your vision gives you indications of certain things. What all that leads to is you understand there are other realities besides the one you're used to. And the fact that there are other realities means you do not have to necessarily exist within a cage of what you think is the only reality. It isn't the only reality we are set up chemically to feel.
What if all of the sudden you had a dog nose. Now dogs have noses that can smell stuff, (I) don't know how many times better than ours is, but it's stunning. Some animals can hear way better, so their reality is way different from ours. There are tons of different realities. That leaves everything wide open. So we kind of tended to live that way: wide open.
LA.COM: That's awesome.
Grace Slick: For better or for worse.
LA.COM: It's probably for better … but...
Grace Slick: Well it was for us simply because acid is tricky. If you're in bad frame of mind, or if you have what the kids call now "issues" (laughs), you are not going to do well on acid without a psychiatrist. But we were all in our 20s, healthy, making money – rock and roll. We all felt really good. I'm sure there were people who did have bad trips, but we did not have that. I never saw anybody “flip out” or do any of that kind of stuff.
LA.COM: Describe the experience of painting – the creative process – for you. Grace Slick: I get ideas from everywhere. It can be two words that happen to be said on a commercial on television. It can be the way the sunlight hits a tree outside my window.
It can be the way my daughter's hair looks in the morning, It can be an idea that can turn into a form.
And what I do when I get an idea, because I have a terrible memory, I've got files cards. I get out a pencil, (and) draw the idea out very quickly. Then I will take that idea and elaborate on it on 8-by-10 paper. Then I will take that pencil and erase it, go over it, erase it go over until I get it like I want. Then I'll take it to a copy-machine place and have them blow it up and hand me a couple of copies, just in case one gets spilled on, on the way home.
I come home, and I take carbon paper and put it under the big piece, and I outline where I want it to go on the canvas. And the process is always the same. What goes on the canvas is not always the same. But the initial process is always the same.
LA.COM: And you work mostly with acrylics?
Grace Slick: Yeah because I'm 74, and I don't have a lot of time to sit around and wait for oils to dry, and acrylics is really fast. I can't answer the phone when I'm working with acrylics because they dry so fast. But my favorite are pastels, but they don't travel very well.
And if you spray them, they lose this incredible color. When you hear pastel, you think, “Oh, a nice little pink.” That's the name of them. It's chalk – they have the most vibrant colors.
But I don't do pastel really very much. I do reds and blues and very in-your-face colors.
I paint very much like what I am, just rock and roll. In your face. It's not hard to understand. It's definite. There is no question about rock and roll.