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Rock art

These days, Grace Slick uses painting as her creative outlet

Former Jefferson Airplane vocalist Grace Slick says she can only focus on one thing at a time. "I can't take on different things at once. I mean, I can only focus on one man, one job and one whatever. When I was in music, I was married at the time and had a child. Consequently, two of those things suffered for my art."

These days, Slick says she has time to focus on her visual art, since her marriage to fellow Jefferson Airplane musician Paul Kantner has long since been dissolved and her daughter China has grown up.

In fact, Slick is so much into drawing and painting that some of her works are in an exhibition traveling around the country. They'll be on display — and for sale — this week in the Hotel Monaco, 15 W. 200 South. The exhibit will run Friday, July 6, from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, July 7, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday, July 8, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free.

Both originals and reproductions will be available for purchase, and some of the proceeds will benefit the Grammy Foundation Art of Music program. "Back when I was singing, I did draw a bit," Slick said during a phone interview from her home in Malibu, Calif.

"I'd pencil pictures of people like David Crosby or whoever was a guest on our albums. Sometimes those drawings would wind up in our liner notes. But I didn't take drawing seriously until five years ago."

Back then, Slick was living with an artist whom she said was "talented but bipolar. He didn't take his medication, but when his chemicals were working together, there wasn't anyone who was more happy with life. But when he was down, he got violent. He was amazing and he composed beautiful music, but it was a roller coaster ride, and I had to do something or I would have gone nuts. So I started drawing earnestly."

The relationship ended, but Slick continued to draw.

"I didn't want to get into the business end of it because then it would have stopped being a hobby," Slick said. "But I did. The good thing is, my agent takes care of the business dealings. All I have to do is draw. So it's still like a hobby.

"I don't know how people can survive without an outlet. I feel bottled up if I don't sit down to write a song or, nowadays, paint. I feel like I'm constipated."

Slick's paintings, for the most part, are of her contemporaries — Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia. But she also adds her own take on animals, like the White Rabbit that was immortalized in Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" stories, and its offspring, the Jefferson Airplane hit song "White Rabbit."

"I wanted to give the public a perception of the people I knew," Slick said of her paintings of Joplin and other musicians. "I wanted to show the public that these people weren't all about depression and drug use, as rock journalists and biographers — who, for the most part, didn't personally know their subjects — would like us to believe."

The Joplin work, which, Slick confessed, isn't her best painting, depicts the singer as a cheerful nymph with flowers in her hair. "She loved life. She really took the bull by both horns and gave it her all."

Slick approaches her paintings through various lines of inspiration. "I watch TV and see people. I saw (Bob) Dylan and noticed the lines on his face and how deep they went. I tell you, he had a totally different face when he was 24. But that's what I noticed. I'm drawn to bone structure. And I start with that."

Other inspirations are animals. Slick, a vegetarian who doesn't wear leather or fur, says she has been and always will be a voice in the animal rights movements.

"I get very happy when I look at animals. And I want to show people how wonderful they are if we just leave them alone. Take cows, for instance. They're getting a bad rap because of the gasses they emit, which is supposedly harmful to the atmosphere. But it's not the cows' fault. Humans eat them and demand more.

"Therefore, there are cow farms that are in existence solely for breeding cows. If humans would have left the cows alone to reproduce themselves in their own time, then it wouldn't be a problem."

Although her political views sometimes dictate how and what she paints or draws, Slick said she doesn't care about what people think. "If people want to think of me trying to be like Garcia, who not only played music but created paintings and such, so be it.

"Doing art wasn't a risk for me. I didn't go to school to learn how to do art. I did it by trial and error. And I'm still learning. I don't have people telling me what to draw or paint; I let the subject dictate it to me. If people want to buy it, great. I'd do art whether or not people are going to buy it."

E-mail: scott@desnews.com