Slick will be at Alexander Salazar Fine Art this weekend to promote her 420 Collection. The politically based collection -- I mean, would you expect anything less from a woman who plotted with Abbie Hoffman to spike Richard Nixon’s tea with 600 micrograms of LSD? -- is based on her work for the Marijuana Policy Project, which works toward the legalization of medicinally used pot. I recently spoke with the incredibly affable and hilarious painter, who was at her home in Malibu, about her new career, the politics of drugs and life in general.
Scott McDonald: How are you doing?
Grace Slick: Not too bad for an old fart.
SM: When did you start painting?
GS: About ‘95 or ‘96. I was living with a guy who had a brilliant mind, was good looking, fabulous -- but he was bi-polar. He didn’t want to take the medication for it and got physically violent. I’ll argue with you forever, but I don’t do the physical thing. So I told him to go back to Rio, which he did, but I was sad. In order to get happy, I started drawing animals all over the place. The agent for my autobiography saw them and said they needed to go in the book. I said they were too cute and rock & roll needed to draw rock & roll. So I did a few portraits -- Jerry Garcia and Jimi Hendrix -- and that’s how it all really started. And oddly enough, it was my accountant who introduced me to my art agent.
SM: All things considered, that seems like a relatively late start.
GS: That’s because I only do one thing at a time. I’m a rock & roll singer or I’m a painter. Jerry Garcia used to take his paints on the road. I don’t do that. I have one house, one car, one child, one job at a time, and one man at a time.
SM: Does that mean you only work on one painting at a time?
GS: Yes, but in the last six months, I’ve started working on a couple at a time, simply because, many times, I have to let the first layer of paint dry. I would get antsy, so I kind of broke that rule, but it’s the most multitasking I’ve ever done in my life.
SM: How similar are the painting and rock & roll processes for you?
GS: There is some overlap there at the beginning, when you have the idea. The structure and the basis for it is the same. You have an idea in your head, and you need to get it out. With one, you go to the piano, and with the other, you grab a pen, pencil, brushes or whatever. The follow-through is quite different. Music is such a collaborative process, and painting is a quiet one you do alone.
SM: Why animals?
GS: I never had a dog, or even really gave a s--- about animals one way or the other for a long time. But it all started when I got one of those panda solicitations, wildlife or whatever, in the mail. I like pandas -- they’re cute -- so I opened it up. Turns out there were only 1,000 or so left at that time. So, I got more interested and started reading about how they existed in the world. Then, when I was living in Northern California, in Mill Valley, there were a bunch of raccoons getting into my garbage. My husband put bungee cords on the cans, and those raccoons just took them off and got into the cans anyway. [Laughs] Turns out, they’re really smart. So he built a box around the cans, and that didn’t work, either. So I figured if I just fed them at the other end of the house, they’d stay out of the garbage. It worked. I’d put food out there about 8 at night, and they’d eat four bags of Oreos, four dozen eggs, four large bags of cat food and whatever we had left over from dinner. And we ended up having about 40 raccoons come over every night until the house burned down.
SM: That’s like a bona fide raccoon posse.
GS: It was a posse! They’re like human beings. They all had different personalities. Some were shy, some were overt, some were fighters, and some were very peaceful. The old ones would lay on the chaise lounges out by the pool, the “teenage” ones would shove each other in the water, and the babies were frightened. It was stunning. So it was there that I was officially fascinated with raccoons, and pandas, and the knowledge that all of these animals have been around a whole lot longer than we have. And not only that, they’re comfortable here. You just don’t hear about 40 raccoons from L.A. going up to have a war with 40 raccoons from San Francisco. It ain’t gonna happen. It’s too stupid. They care too much about their own children and property.
SM: I assume the iconic rabbit in your paintings is born of the song.
GS: It was done on purpose. Most of those [paintings] are done for the Marijuana Policy Project. They want to hook the bunny up with me, so I used the White Rabbit. He’s a hero bunny, the rescue rabbit. He goes around and gives a joint to a lot of people who are sick. Marijuana just helps with so many things -- cancer, anorexia and about 15 others. Pharmaceuticals are far more tricky. It’s a real crapshoot there. Not that they’re all bad, but marijuana just doesn’t have the side-effects. And it’s just crazy to me how alcohol is accepted in the way it is and marijuana is not. Alcohol is a violent drug. It takes away fear and makes people do crazy things. But marijuana is the one that’s illegal. It makes you say, "What’s wrong with this picture?" Not to mention that if you legalized and taxed it here in California, you could get rid of the state’s problems in an instant. That one thing would get us out of our financial problems. How dumb is everybody that we aren’t going for that?
SM: I’ve read that alcohol companies -- especially the bigger beer distributors -- fund anti-marijuana legislation to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.
GS: That’s the absurdity of capitalism. If you look at it really hard, it’s getting ridiculous. It’s crazy. We don’t live in a democracy. We live in a plutonomy. That is the truth. This whole country is run through 1 or 2 percent of the richest people -- whether with corporations or through the power to buy legislation -- and the rest of us just believe we’re in a democracy. But, obviously, I’m very left wing. I consider myself a democratic socialist. But in this country, it’s all about the -isms. We’ve rejected communism and socialism; it’s time we rejected capitalism, and Wall Street is the place to start. My father was an investment banker. He knew I wasn’t interested, but he told me to never invest in the stock market. He suggested bonds and California real estate. He said that 60 years ago, and it’s still true.
SM: You’ve always been political, but it seems like the painting didn’t start out that way. When did you decide to marry the two?
GS: I did a collage, years ago, called Barry Goldwater. It had a plate, a knife and fork, and Lenny Bruce’s face cut up in pieces on the plate. So it’s not like politics haven’t been a part of my art outside of music. But with the acrylics, I haven’t done a lot of political things other than the marijuana campaigns. I’ve mostly done animals and portraits.
SM: Well, these days especially, marijuana is certainly political.
GS: Those still against it say it’s a gateway drug. And I say an ice cream cone is a gateway to obesity. A bicycle is a gateway to Evel Knievel. There’s a gateway to anything. If you don’t read history, you’re going to repeat it. All through history people have used drugs. Marijuana grows naturally. Cavemen didn’t have problems with anorexia. They knew if something felt good, they wanted to do it again. But there are people, like myself, who are unable to use drugs appropriately. That will always be an issue. So, you need to figure, if you’re not good at something -- stop doing it! It’s easier said than done, but if you don’t die first, you need to just stop. I can’t use drugs appropriately, so I don’t. And it isn’t about intelligence. There are a lot of people who are smarter than me out there suffering from addiction. But that doesn’t have anything to do with marijuana.
SM: Painting is a career for you now.
GS: It is. But I look at it as more of a “take it as it comes” thing. I’m 72 years old. You don’t sit around and plan your future at that age, because you don’t have much of a future. Chances are, unless medical science comes up with something brilliant, I’ll be incapacitated soon -- which I already am to some point. I have arthromyalgia in my feet. It’s rare, so they don’t study it, they don’t know what starts it, and they don’t know how to cure it. There’s no money in it. But people are born to do things. Everyone has their ability. My ex-husband could walk into a room and fix a TV set he’d never seen before in his life. Now me, I’m just excited when the light goes on when you flip the switch. But this art is very much like rock & roll for me. It’s very colorful, it’s very simple, it’s in your face, and you don’t have to stand back and wonder what it is. It’s commercial art -- just like rock & roll. And it’s something I was born to do.