State of Grace

"I'm covered with paint, all colors," says a spry Grace Slick on the phone at 7:00 a.m. Pacific time from her Malibu, California, home. The 61-year-old Slick, owner of the vigorous voice that guided the Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship to hits such as "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love" in the Sixties, quit singing more than a decade ago, but she hasn't stopped being creative. Seven years ago, when the breakup of a difficult relationship left her depressed, she turned to painting to lift her spirits and hasn't put her brush down since.

Beginning by drawing animals, Slick, who never trained formally in art, moved on shortly thereafter to more familiar territory: musician portraits. "There's a picture of Frank Zappa I'm working on right now, and he's giving you the finger," she reports, "and on top of the finger is a musical note." But Slick's subjects range beyond dead musicians; images of live ones appear on her canvases as well. Bob Dylan and Pete Townsend have found their way into her oeuvre, as have Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin, and the occasional anonymous person or white rabbit.

While Slick names Dalí, Manet, Monet, Degas, and Basquiat as some of the artists she admires, she doesn't presume to rank her work, with its bold strokes and bright acrylic colors, on their level. "My stuff I would think of as elaborate cartoons," she admits. "I'm good at what I do, but I'm not a great artist." The critics tend to agree. They have not been kind. One New York-based reviewer who saw her work on the Internet remarked that it appeared she was "self-taught."

"Most of the people who were artists, whether they were great or good or whatever they were through the ages, most of them were self-taught because they couldn't afford all that fancy stuff," Slick explains. "Self-taught! I just laughed, because the art world strikes me as really funny."

Amusing or not, the art world's fringe is where Slick moves now. The reason she's doused in paint: She's rushing to finish a slew of works for a couple of shows in South Florida this weekend. The exhibitions are not just geared to display her talent; the paintings are all priced to move. "I'm more excited about selling things that have nothing to do with “White Rabbit' or rock and roll stars," Slick says.

Yet selling in any form is a good thing to Slick, who takes herself lightly. She readily admits she wouldn't mind having her work duplicated on T-shirts, neckties, posters, and even lunchboxes in the tradition of her paintbrush-wielding rock-star brethren. "The deal now is communication," she says. The deal when she was a rock star was singing, drinking, drugging, and screwing. But then as now Slick has been able to maintain her perspective. "I didn't think of myself as I'm this big serious artist or serious anything," she notes about her days in the band. "I've mostly been a fuckoff, and sometimes people will buy whatever it is I'm selling, which is amazing."