San Diego Art Gallery Embraces Grace Slick’s 420 Collection

By Esther Rubio-Sheffrey

Grace Slick, legendary ‘60s rock icon turned artist, will unveil her 420 Collection at downtown’s Alexander Salazar Fine Art Gallery, from Dec. 1st through Jan. 31st. The newest series of paintings raise awareness about the benefits of medicinal marijuana through colorful, thought-provoking pieces; often featuring Wonderland’s famed White Rabbit.

Once a Woodstock performer, Slick is no stranger to the controversies of drugs, freedom, and rock ‘n’ roll. Outspoken and often blunt, Slick speaks with NUG Magazine about her personal struggle with drug use, the politics of the drug war, her fascination with Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and how the book has influenced her life, music, and art.

“Somebody read Alice in Wonderland to me when I was about four, and it has resonated with me since,” Slick said. “The rabbit has been a constant in my life. I was born in the year of the rabbit…I went down the rabbit hole, metaphorically, in the ‘60s. A ceramic rabbit was the only thing to survive when my house burned down years ago, so I go with it.” Aside from feeling like the White Rabbit–Alice in Wonderland theme has surrounded her life, Slick genuinely loves the story’s message.

“There is no prince charming. Alice does it herself,” Slick said. “In most stories, there is always some prince chasing the woman around, but that is not the way it goes. Many women think they’ve met ‘Prince Charming’, so they get married and have a bunch of kids, and then oh shit, he wants a younger woman. He leaves and she is left with kids and no skills. You have to get yourself together first before you do all of that. Women need something to fall back on that makes you your own person. Alice becoming her own person first is a really good idea, and it is a story that ought to be read to all [young] women.”

Slick also likes that Alice in Wonderland, more than any other children’s story, features the use of drugs and ponders whether parents think about the things they read to their children. “Drug taking happens in a lot of children’s books and that is why I wrote ‘White Rabbit’,” she said. “In Peter Pan, you sprinkle some dust on your head and suddenly have a great adventure. You fall down in a field of opium poppies in the Wizard of Oz and off you go on another journey. What I got from Alice and all of these other things when I was little was that chemicals would give you some kind of interesting adventure.”

The War on Drugs
Slick’s musical career, which spanned three decades, was her first avenue of artistic expression. With her powerful and supple contralto voice, Slick helped to propel Jefferson Airplane into rock history with musical hits like “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit” – a song that reflected on society’s relationship with pharmaceutical drug use.

Her personal drug battle began at an early age, long before she was a rock star. Although her parents were the typical ‘50s couple, where dad was the breadwinner and mom stayed home, they were lenient with Slick and allowed her to indulge her curiosity. She drank for the first time at 15 years old and smoked cigarettes as a teenager. Later in life, her parents would ask her, “Why do you take those chemicals?” Slick considered the question hypocritical. “They were sitting there with a glass of scotch, come on! That is one of the hardest drugs known to man. Alcohol is a drug,” she said.

Of all the drugs Slick has tried in her life, which include marijuana, acid, and her personal favorite, Quaaludes, it is with alcohol that she has had the most problems. “I come from a long line of alcoholics. Everyone in my family was practically one,” Slick said. “They were all functioning alcoholics though; no one lost their jobs or families because of it, or anything like that, and they were all actually very funny. I am the only one who would turn into a shit.”

Although sober now for 14 years and for the majority of the ‘80s, Slick described herself as a periodic alcoholic. “When I drank, I would get shit faced. I could drink for 24 hours straight, but it was never an everyday thing,” she said. “I would get very stubborn and mouth off to cops too.” While never arrested for drunk driving, she was arrested four times for drinking-related incidents. “I was sitting under a tree once, reading a book, having lunch, and drinking a bottle of wine. A cop came by and said, ‘What are you doing?’ and I replied, ‘What does it look like I am doing?’ ‘You can’t drink on public property,’ he scolded me, and I went into one of my tirades about everything being public. From there, it just escalated, and I was off to jail. Many women are scared about going to jail, but it is no big deal. I just go to sleep. With the band, at least one of us was routinely going to jail.”

Of her sobriety, Slick says she feels free and in control. “Some unfortunate side effects are that I can be a real asshole, and I speed a lot while driving,” she said. “I have had good lovers and husbands, and lots of good times in my life, but now there is nothing driving me to drink, nothing I want to forget. Besides, getting drunk now would be suicidal. The older you get, the less your body likes of anything, and I just couldn’t handle the amount I like to drink.”

“I don’t mind being sober, but I didn’t mind being drunk,” she added with a laugh, quickly switching to a serious tone. “Alcohol is a very powerful drug. So are nicotine and caffeine, and today the biggest problem is pharmaceuticals. There are a bunch of drugs, and at the end of the day, the least harmful is marijuana.”

“When I was a kid, you were not supposed to smoke or drink, but that is what we did anyway. The more you tell someone not to do it, the more they want to,” Slick said. “Nancy Regan in the ‘80s with her ‘Just Say No’ campaign was all a bunch of bullshit! When people do not read history, they are bound to repeat it and make errors in judgment. Marijuana, unlike alcohol, is a natural.”

Her other issue with how marijuana is looked down upon is that it is constantly referred to as a gateway drug. “Everything is a gateway drug,” Slick said as she laughed. “You do not necessarily start with marijuana. More than likely, you start with alcohol, and once you discover chemicals take you places, anything is a gateway. Marijuana is no more a gateway drug than everything else is. We should be more concerned about which drugs we will regulate than which ones will act as a gateway, and which ones to keep away from kids, because they are going to come across them anyway.”

She considers the war on drugs to be misguided and feels the best approach is education. “It all depends on the family, but my philosophy is if you want to be an alcoholic by the time you are 12, fine, just do not get into a car and drag anyone down with you. But take drugs or not, I am going to tell you about what drugs will do to you,” she said. “Before the band took acid, we met a young, beautiful, and nerdy chemist who worked for Shell. He gave us books to read, had us look at drawings to prepare us for what we might see, and we really learned about the drug. No one taught me about alcohol and they should have. I do not know if it would have helped, but it would have been a good idea.”

Slick respects marijuana, both for its medicinal and recreational use, but it was not a drug that she enjoyed. “Everyone handles drugs differently. For some people, certain drugs work really well and others do not,” she said. “Quaaludes really worked on me. I do not know why, but it was pleasant. I did not want to drive. I did not want to yell at cops. It was as if I had found peace. At the end of the day, that is what people are looking for with drugs, a form of peace.”

The idea of peace reminds Slick of an Indian guru she once knew and the first experience he had with acid. “He was very quiet through it all, and afterward he said, ‘You can visit, but you can not stay,’” she recalled. “Nothing has ever been truer. You have to work at it spiritually to eventually find peace.”

The 420 Collection & Other Works
Slick stopped singing in the mid-‘80s and chose to express her voice through paintings rather than music, although she feels drawn to all means of artistic expression. “I can do and probably would love doing any of the arts with the exception of dancing because I am a klutz,” she said. She admits, however, that her reason for painting might have sprung out of her admiration for animators. “I have always loved animation; it is very simple, it is in your face and very colorful. That is what I did with music, and that is what I am doing with painting.”

Her weapon of choice when painting is acrylic paint, which she applies onto her canvasses with a variety of different brushes. “I am 72. I don’t have time to spend dicking around waiting for paint to dry,” Slick said. “I create a lot of stuff. They are fairly simple pieces, so I work fast.” At first, she used to work on one piece at a time, but nowadays, she works on roughly four pieces at once. Some pieces take 30 minutes; others can take up to two weeks. Slick’s workspace is tidy, and because of her musical ear, she works in complete silence to avoid distractions.

“I am lucky enough to work for myself,” Slick said. “It is a business though, so half of my art I create at the suggestion of my manager and paint what sells; and the other pieces I create for my own pleasure.” One of the pieces that Slick refers to is one of “screwy ideas”; it is the “Witness Relocation” piece that will also be on display. “It is somber,” she said. “I got the idea from watching crime shows and started thinking about how lonely the life of a witness, who is uprooted and relocated, must be.”

An example of a suggested piece is the “Pot Luck” painting in her 420 Collection. It is an iconic image recognizable to most; but instead of the dull-looking farm couple holding a pitchfork in front of their farm, Slick painted two white rabbits dressed as farmers. She left the pitchfork, but gave them each a joint.

The White Rabbit is a constant in many of the 420 Collection pieces. One of Slick’s favorites is “Your Choice.” It features a rabbit in a sling with two medical options – Vicodin or marijuana. The drug side effects are listed below each option. “I am not saying all pharmaceuticals are bad, but you want to start with something that has the least negative side effects, and marijuana is that choice,” Slick said. “Everyone has seen those commercials featuring the miracle drug and happy people while the narrator calmly goes through an insane list of side effects. It’s nuts!”

“A majority of people either have or currently use marijuana for fun,” Slick added. “Everybody knows that; it is no secret. Comedians like Bill Mahr and Jon Stewart joke about it, and the truth is that nobody really cares, but politicians like to scare people. History will be amused by the ineffectiveness of the war on drugs. It is just not possible. [Authorities] are just dancing around the edges; they will never get to the core of it.”

Through her art and the magical powers of the White Rabbit, Slick hopes to encourage people to indulge and pursue in their own curiosities. “There is always the possibility that you will go too far with something, but get out and explore things. Life is short; my life has gone by like a lightening bolt. When you have a body that can take it, travel, see what you want to see, and do things you want to do. Why would you stay home and protect yourself? That is stupid. When you get to be old, it is not what you did that you regret, but what you did not do.”

Meet Grace Slick
In addition to the 420 Collection, the Alexander Salazar Fine Art exhibit will feature a large selection of Slick’s most recent surrealist paintings, and it will dig deep into her archives to display some of her best-known work. To preview Slick’s art, or learn more about the artist, visit

Gallery Exhibition:
Dec. 1 – Jan. 31
Alexander Salazar Fine Art
1040 7th Ave,
San Diego, CA

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