A girl in a bohemian dress sways to the rhythm of her favorite song. Shirtless 20-somethings yell and tussle in the August heat. Thousands of music lovers engage in a mutual dance, despite being surrounded by mud. This is not the Austin City Limits Music Festival but rather a painting of Woodstock by Grace Slick, the lead singer of the 1960s rock band Jefferson Airplane.
Slick, who wrote and performed Jefferson Airplane’s hit “White Rabbit,” will display her collection of psychedelic paintings at Art on 5th through April 24.
Slick became interested in the music industry while working as a fashion model in San Francisco, where she represented designers such as Christian Dior and Balenciaga. She said that although the clothes were beautiful, the modeling job wasn’t interesting to her.
After watching the then-local band Jefferson Airplane perform at a small club, Slick decided that it was time for a career change.
“I thought, ‘My mother was a singer, I can be a singer!’” Slick said.
Shortly thereafter, she and her husband, Jerry, formed the band The Great Society and began touring with Jefferson Airplane. In 1966, Jefferson Airplane’s lead singer, Signe Anderson, left to start a family, and Slick was asked to fill the position.
“We were both dark-haired, low-voiced Norwegians, only I was more flamboyant,” Slick said.
After headlining three of the festivals that shaped the ’60s, both musically and culturally — Monterey, Woodstock and Altamont — Slick’s band achieved international fame. Their U.S. Top 10 singles “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit” are both listed among Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”
After nearly three decades of success in the music industry, Slick decided to broaden her artistic horizons. In 1998, she chose to put down her microphone and pick up a paintbrush.
“You’d be surprised how many guitarists can paint, or how many set designers have a knack for, you know, producing interesting smells. We can jump around because it all comes from the same part of the brain,” Slick said. “Painting is like music, but more solitary.”
Slick claims to have always taken some interest in visual arts, designing her family’s Christmas cards at age 3 and creating line drawings for CD inserts. However, her painting career did not truly blossom until her agent suggested that she depict what she is famous for — music.
“I thought, ‘A musician painting musicians? That’s too cutesy!’” Slick said.
Her vibrant, flowing portrayal of Jimi Hendrix proved to be a popular piece, however.
“When I use colors, you know it. Rock ’n’ roll isn’t obscure; it’s blatant, it’s in your face. That’s what my paintings are,” Slick said. “I don’t want to make something so obscure that people don’t know what to think of it.”
Another recurring motif in Slick’s artwork, which she describes as “elaborate cartoons,” is the white rabbit from “Alice in Wonderland.”
Claiming that the rabbit represents curiosity, Slick says that no one should be afraid to follow it wherever it may lead.
“Everyone has fears — they’re a survival mechanism that dates back to when people lived in caves,” Slick said. “But we don’t live with lions outside our doors anymore. If you’re afraid to do something, do it anyway.”
Though the rabbit pieces are popular among fans who enjoy the hit song with a similar message, Slick identifies with the character on a more personal level. Slick was born in the year of the rabbit and grew up next to a rabbit farm. She likens the rabbit in “Alice in Wonderland” to her own experiences in the music industry.
“‘Alice in Wonderland’ was written in Victorian England, and I was born in the ’50s, when women were expected to wear medium heels and wait at home for their husbands. Boring!” Slick said. “The ’60s, sort of like ‘Wonderland,’ were nuts by comparison.”