“Welcome To Wonderland” – The Grace Slick collection on Exhibition and Available for acquisition September 10, 2013 thru October 5, 2013 at Gallery 319 in Woodland Hills
By Valerie Milano
Woodland Hills, CA (Hollywood Today) 9/22/13
Gallery 319 in Woodland Hills is playing host to an exhibition by one of the art world’s established stars who is also a music icon for the ages. Grace Slick. In case you missed the previous century, Grace was a leading creative force in the visionary 60’s band, Jefferson Airplane. Slick penned the hits, including “White Rabbit”; one of the penultimate lyrical and musical achievements in Rock Music history. Slick was one of the era’s most photogenic free-radicals, and could always be counted on for a brutally honest and provocative quote. At the turn of the decade, when the “…Airplane” flight crew started parachuting from the vessel, Slick and the remaining members retooled the craft, re-christened it Jefferson Starship and maintained altitude with a clutch of hit singles and albums throughout the 70’s and 80’s.
Always a leader and never a follower, Grace famously declared her distaste for middle age rockers shaking their booty on the concert stage and retired from music in 1989. She fell into painting a couple of years later and never looked back…..
Grace Slick is not a coy artist. She doesn’t obfuscate her message in a maelstrom of abstract tom-foolery. Her lines and subjects are clean and carefully composed. She has expressed admiration for the 17th century painter Vermeer and his use of light. Many of the same themes and subjects she chronicled with her music, she has memorialized in acrylic. The world of Lewis Carroll is one Grace feels existentially connected to. And artistically, she revisits that world quite often. She also resurrects the spirits of absent friends from the golden era of the 1960’s. Slick’s portraits of her friend Jim Morrison are particularly haunting.
However, the story of this American Treasure is best told by the subject herself. I interviewed Grace in the morning hours of September 4th 2013 and found her to be expansive and knowledgeable on a wide range of subjects. Not just art and music. And, the theme of her exhibition. “Welcome To Wonderland” snaps into clear focus as she explains her muse, her work and her life……
GS “I identified heavily with the story of “Alice In Wonderland” and the white rabbit. I was born in the year of The Rabbit. The guy who lived next door to us when I was a kid had about 40 or 50 white rabbits. My parents – god bless them – didn’t tell me why he had that many rabbits. He was raising them for fur coats. I did not know that. I just thought he liked white rabbits. He was also a car freak and he had a Pierce Arrow. Which is a really a fabulous old car. Mr. Clark, he was about seventy years old and I was about five, and I’d go over there and sit in his car and play with his rabbits. So the rabbit thing has been going on forever. I figure that stuff that comes along in your life, keeps being repeated. It’s either an indication of where you should be going, or something to stay away from.”
Grace Slick has always been a fiercely independent and feminist force of nature. And she made a profound connection between her personal politics and the “Alice In Wonderland” story,
GS “The story of Alice in Wonderland. It’s the only one of those stories that was read to me when I was little where there’s no prince charming that saves her, she’s gotta make her own way. I went to an Al Anon meeting about thirty-five or forty years ago. And there’s a bunch of women sitting around and complaining about their drunken husbands. And, I thought that’s stupid, why don’t you leave? They couldn’t leave because they couldn’t get their own shit together before they got married. In other words it would behoove you -I love that word- to get your own life, and get that together so that you have an option; so, you aren’t just stuck with three kids when the old man wants to get drunk and screw twenty-five year olds.”
Grace has her own interpretation on the symbolism of the White Rabbit in “Alice In Wonderland” and possible connections to her wild-ride journey through life…..
GS: “I believe the white rabbit represents her (Alice’s) curiosity. Because your curiosity is always slightly ahead of you. Life is very short. You can either follow your curiosity or go ‘no I’m too scared’. This is just my theory, Lewis Carrollnever said that…. This story (Alice in Wonderland) is amazing because it was written in Victorian times, “Alice in Wonderland” was not written last year, it was written when things were very strict for women. So it’s an amazing story in that sense.”
On the subject of personal empowerment. Grace Slick retired from rock and roll in 1989 and began painting seriously a couple of years later…..A courageous decision as there was still money on the table when she left the game. Grace’s motivation for retirement was simple,
GS: “I don’t like old people on a rock stage. I don’t like Brussels sprouts either. That doesn’t mean Brussels sprouts are bad, or that people who happen to like Brussels sprouts are bad, I just don’t happen to like ‘em. I felt even in my forties, like…. I’m too old for this.”
The decision to paint was obviously a good one for Grace. She looks back retaining her famous sense of humor,
GS: “Yeah I feel really good, I stopped using so called “fun drugs” about sixteen years ago. And I didn’t use any all during the eighties either. Which is too bad, ‘cause the eighties would have been a better time to be taking drugs actually.They (the eighties) were so god awful (laughs). I look at pictures of myself and I think. “My God! You wore that and you were sober? You can’t even blame it on liquor! These hideous outfits with these big shoulders and the fuzzy hair, and I just think, Christ!”
I asked Ms. Slick to take us into the process of creating and finishing a painting.
GS: “Well when I’m painting, I work on it until I can feel it’s time to stop. With acrylic it’s tough because it dries very fast. Then I put it in front of me about ten feet way. And a lot of time is spent just looking at it. What does it need? What needs to be erased and done again? So, yes there is a lot of just….. Observing.”
I asked Grace if she had a full picture in her head of what piece looks like before she starts painting,
GS: “No, I have a partial picture. In other words, I know usually, what the subject matter is. I’m looking at one now that has a rabbit and a bird. I knew that there was going to be a tree and a bird and a rabbit. Now as it turned out, it was snowing. So the rabbit is in the snow and there’s snow on the tree. But, I didn’t know that when I started. That’s something I saw after I painted the rabbit and the bird. So, things evolve. Some of it is more planned than others. Some of it is a lot looser. And loose for me is usually not good. I’d rather have a placement in my head, and stuff that isn’t placed yet, at least there is room for it. So, I know where the empty spaces are in order to make it proportional.”
I asked Grace her opinion on why so many musicians (Joni Mitchell, Don Van Vliet, Ronnie Wood etc..) have had so much crossover success in painting and the visual arts.
GS: “It’s the same part of the brain. Most people who are set designers can play piano or guitar or sculpt or something like that. Usually, an artist can jump around from art to art. In other words, if you were to tell me, “I’m sorry you can paint any more”, I’d say, okay, I’ll write a book. “I’m sorry you can’t write a book.” Ok, I’ll be a set designer….and on and on. The art I can’t do – because I’m such a klutz – is dancing. I’ll run into a wall just walking around.”
With so many musicians having a negative view of the music business, I was anxious to get Grace’s opinion on the “business” of art,
GS: “Well the art business is just strange……I don’t know if it’s cutthroat. Maybe it is in New York. A lot of rich people will go to some gallery owner and they can be told what to buy. Now that bothers me a lot. That’s just so precious that it makes me puke. What I think you ought to do if want to buy a piece of art, is buy something YOU like. Don’t listen to the ‘art’ guy. That’s not the point. Unless you’re buying it to resell. Corporations will buy Van Gogh, then they’ll hang it in their corporate lobby or something. That’s a different deal. Then they can resell it for twice the money or whatever. But, figure who you are, what you like. What you’d like to look at on a regular basis. You’re gonna hang it in your house. Do you want to have it hanging there every goddamn day…. or not? So listening to gallery owners from New York is just nauseating.”
We continued on the topics of commerce and subjectivity when I asked her if she ever disliked one of her paintings enough to destroy it,
GS: “Oh sure there’s been several pieces I’ve just thrown in the trash. There’s another piece early on when I first started doing this professionally; my art agent kept putting it in shows. I kept saying it was the most god-awful thing. Finally there was one show and he still had it in there, and he came over said, “come here a minute”, He said some people wanted to buy one of my paintings. I turned the corner and these people bought this thing for seven thousand bucks. So from then on, I just let my agent choose what goes into the shows. I don’t have anything to say about it. Apparently it’s too subjective for me.”
One cannot talk to Grace Slick without discussing the 1960’s icons she routinely rubbed shoulders with. In the case of Jim Morrison, she was sufficiently fascinated by the subject to render him twice. One of her drawings, “Pretty Boy”, turns the neat trick of representing Morrison (a classically beautiful man) as even more beautiful and angelic than he was in reality. Slick gave some insight into the soul of her muse and friend…..Jim Morrison…..
GS: “It’s always nice to be good looking and have people, women think you’re hot. But, there’s another chunk of him that was, sort of bothered by it. Whenever you’re pretty, whether you’re man or woman, people tend to think you’re brainless too, I don’t know why that is, but that seems to go along with it. He wasn’t. He was nuts, but he wasn’t stupid. He used himself as a guinea pig. He wanted to see how far you could push the human mind…”
Our chat was free-wheeling and eventually veered into subjects as diverse as the Syria situation. Again, there was a relevant link to her beloved story, “Alice In Wonderland” and the theme of her current exhibition,
GS: “I think it’s a good book for both children and adults to take a look at. Because it’s also a political book. He (Lewis Carroll) makes fun of and brings up the issues of leaders. The red queen represents the negative stuff, the power that leaders have that they shouldn’t have. Nobody should be able to say “off with their head” unless there’s been a trial.”
I started my interview with Grace Slick nervous and apprehensive. I finished it feeling like I had just been granted an audience with a wise tribal elder. Grace Slick is 76 years old. She (and others) possess a mother lode of wisdom and experience that our age-phobic culture would do well to tap into more often.
I saw Grace at the Gallery 319 showing. The cozy but welcoming gallery was packed spilling out to the sidewalk. Grace sat in a corner and seemed a tad exhausted by it all. Another day another gig. Love, admiration and memories from the aging throng bounced around the room like beach balls at an outdoor festival. It was appropriate that the background music was from the era and was confined to the medium of vinyl LP’s. The sounds and painted images from a “Summer of Love” served as a soothing balm to the aging attendees’ collective winter of discontent. I didn’t want to be another in a line of fawning fans but I did walk up and shake her hand. I introduced myself, but I don’t think she heard me over the ambient clamor. No matter. I just wanted to touch greatness.