- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2007

This time 40 years ago, Grace Slick was waiting in the wings while her record label prepared to raise the curtain on “Surrealistic Pillow,” the album that would introduce her as the lead singer of San Francisco psychedelic rockers Jefferson Airplane. That would carry her searing vocals and rebellious lyrics around the world like a great musical wind. That would turn her into an icon and help define the sound of an era.

After its February debut, the record spun off top-10 singles “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit,” both of which Miss Slick brought from her former band, the Great Society. The latter song, a bold countercultural take on Alice in Wonderland that she had penned, not only remains one of Jefferson Airplane’s most enduring hits, continuing to pay Miss Slick hefty royalties, but it has also been a continuing thematic thread in the chanteuse’s life.

You might even say she’s Alice.

Just as the 19th-century storybook character escaped the doldrums of Britain’s adult world, Miss Slick rebelled against what she calls the “beige” monotony of 1950s-era suburban life (Palo Alto, to be exact), hopping down her own rabbit hole of sorts into the mind-bending world of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. She followed her curiosity wherever it led, leading to widely publicized antics, like her own “Mad Tea-Party” — a plan to spike President Nixon’s tea with LSD.

After performing with the band’s various incarnations and launching a solo career, Miss Slick and her White Rabbit leapt into a different medium: the canvas, where they’ve remained since her first gallery exhibition in 2000.

She’ll be in town to display her work at area Wentworth Galleries from Thursday through Jan. 14.

Visual art may not seem like a natural progression for the musician (even if Jerry Garcia did it), but she says that it was important to her to remain involved in creative pursuits after putting down the microphone.

“I sort of have to be doing some form of the arts,” she says, “but I don’t really care which one it is. If you said, ‘You can’t paint anymore,’ I’d be a character actress.”

While the songstress did study art for a while at the University of Miami, she explains that it was not really a serious pursuit at that time; it was only Art 101.

“Any idiot can pass it,” she says. “I took Art 101 to screw around. I didn’t go [to college] to learn anything.”

She picked up her brushes again in the late-‘80s, after the band had lost some of its luster for her and following the dissolution of a relationship.

“In order to make myself happy, I drew a bunch of pictures of animals, because animals make me happy,” she explains. Friends encouraged her to pursue her artistic leanings — and since then, she hasn’t looked back, except to gather subject matter.

In addition to her bunny-tailed friend, Miss Slick has drawn inspiration for her pop art from fellow rock luminaries that she spent time with in rock’s heyday, such as Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jerry Garcia.

A silver-haired 67-year-old who has finally ditched her addictions, the artist is pleased to be doing something that doesn’t involve her looks, describing the aging process as particularly hard for her.

“A lot of people will say, ‘Oh yes, I feel wonderful.’ Actually, you don’t. Nobody wants to look ugly, and you do. Nobody wants to die — unless you’re suicidal — and you’re pretty close to death. The only thing that gets better [with age] is wisdom,” she says.

Although some critics have argued that her works (which cost in the thousands) sell because of her name, not skill, Miss Slick says she learned to deal with naysayers long ago: “You just keep putting one foot in front of the other. It was pretty much the same when we started out [in Jefferson Airplane]. Some thought it was marvelous and some thought it was noise.”

WHAT: Wentworth Gallery Presents Grace Slick

WHERE AND WHEN: Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m. at Wentworth Pentagon City (1100 South Hayes St., Arlington, 703/415-1166); Jan. 12 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Wentworth White Flint (11301 Rockville Pike, North Bethesda, 301/816-7974); Jan. 13 from 6 to 9 p.m. and Jan. 14 from 12 to 2 p.m. at Wentworth Tysons Galleria (1731M International Drive, McLean, 703/883-0111).

TICKETS: Free. (Note that autograph signing will not be permitted.)

WEB SITE: www.wentworth-art.com

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