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Grace Slick hopes to heat up medical marijuana debate in San Diego with her "420 Collection"

SAN DIEGO -- As the medical marijuana controversy continues to heat up in San Diego County, Grace Slick is slipping into town this weekend to help spark up the debate.

This Saturday, the legendary rock-goddess-turned-ethereal-artist will bring her latest art collection to the Alexander Salazar Fine Art Gallery, located at 1040 Seventh Ave. at Broadway, downtown.

The name of this latest exhibition? The "420 Collection."

Slick's latest collection of acrylics and giclee prints will be used as a tool to not only raise awareness about the importance of medicinal uses of marijuana, but also the positive ramifications of its legalization.

Drugs that heal your soul vs. steal your soul

Slick is a recovering alcoholic who has been clean for many years, and longtime fans may be surprised to learn that this icon of the psychedelic years of the 1960s and early 1970s was never much of a marijuana user herself. However, she recognizes the stark contrasts between the illegal drug and its legal-but-evil-twin, alcohol, and the benefits or lack thereof, of each.

"I understand how drugs operate because of the age that I came from," Slick explained to San Diego Gay & Lesbian News. "Alcohol is the strongest drug out there and it wreaks havoc in people's lives, both medically and financially.

"I don't even smoke dope; it makes me paranoid," she said. "Marijuana was useful when mixed with alcohol, because it was good to write music. But you've got to be honest with people. Marijuana [by itself] is not a seriously dangerous drug.

"People try to call it a 'gateway' drug, but then sweets can also lead to obesity. Everyone has their addictions that make them nuts. Television, food, coffee, even cars. I say cars because I go nuts if I don't have a car to get around in here in Los Angeles," she said, chuckling.

"Everybody on the road in Los Angeles is medicated and they are driving around in two tons of machinery. That's a killer. Alcohol always wanted me to get in a car, and I would get arrested for drunk mouth. I never thought I would ever say this, but I have to thank the CHP for busting me three times. I should have never been in a car."

Despite her many years of sobriety, she decided to paint a collection for a cause that she truly believes in.

"I may be genetically indisposed to alcohol and drugs myself, but I am not anti-drug," she said. "And I've been given a lot in this lifetime and that means I need to give back. That makes it a nice, tight circle.

"Marijuana is really good for infirmaties," she continued. "Pharmaceuticals are deadly -- you see it on television with all the disclaimers. They are a real crapshoot. Marijuana is not. It may not work for you and if it doesn't, you just move along. But for people with cancer, for instance, it helps them eat without all those deadly side affects you have with pharmaceuticals."

It might not be all that ironic, then, that "White Rabbit" was itself a metaphor for society's relationship with pharmaceuticals.

Not only is Slick a proponent of the medicinal purposes of marijuana, she sees the advantages of making it legal, like alcohol and cigarettes, as long as proper boundaries are in place.

"Another thing that California can do -- and does -- is grow it. I say make it legal and tax the bejesus out of it and we'd more than make up for the deficit.

"When you make drugs illegal, it makes it exciting to do them. I knew that anything I was told not to do by my parents, meant it must be a lot of fun. If you legalize it, you not only can make money from it, but you also stop the drug wars."

Artwork with a voice

Slick is known for her other collection of paintings that follow the Alice in Wonderland theme, which was born out of the decades of rabbit imagery in her life, starting with Jefferson Airplane's 1965 hit single.

The rabbit is also a staple in her "420 Collection," where she's turned him into a bit of a superhero, named "Rescue Rabbit," with cape and all. He can be seen flying into Washington, D.C., briefcase in hand, to lobby Congress on the legalization of marijuana in one painting and then nursing ailing Alice look-alike character back to health with a marijuana cigarette in another.

There are a dozen or so pieces in the "420 Collection," each painting following her typical bright colors and whimsical theme, but each making a statement; some more directly than others.

One such painting is called "4 Good Reasons" (at left, middle) and it very graphically depicts four common but painful maladies that can be overcome by the use of marijuana. In another, the side-effects of marijuana are pitted side-by-side with those of Vicodin, with Rescue Rabbit propping up the obvious choice.

If you can't make it downtown on Saturday to sneak a peek of her work in person, SRS Limelight Agency, the company that represents her (and other big name musicians who have ventured into the art world), recently launched a website where not only are you able to see individual photos of her various collections, you can also hear Slick narrate her own inspirations for each work of art.

To enjoy this multi-sensory experience, click HERE.

As you navigate through her four main collections on the site ("Wonderland," "Nudes," "Friends" and "420"), thumbnails of each piece of her art work will be displayed on screen. By clicking on each piece individually, you will not only get the details of the piece (i.e., the media used, the size, etc) but also a description, penned by Slick herself, and in almost every case, she has also recorded that description.

It is truly fascinating and magical to hear her describe each item in her own smokey and special voice.

A portrait she did of her old friend Janis Joplin is visible on the website, and for this piece, she narrates the following:

Janis never wore all black, never went without lots of jewelry, never got down on her knees (on stage) and she was not a political singer – so why the flag? Sometimes I have no idea what’s going to come out of my paint brush.

Upon further reflection of this piece during her interview with SDGLN, she explained that she started with Joplin's face, and as she painted across the canvas, she began thinking of how Joplin sang. It was brutal; it was on your knees begging; it was raw. Painting her nude may have also conveyed what she wanted, but instead, Slick chose to paint her body all black - almost in a silhouette - to accomplish the feeling. (See photo of painting at bottom left.)

When asked how long she takes on a piece and what the process is, she was more than generous with her answer.

"I have a vague idea of what I want to start out with and write it down on a file card. Then I sketch it out on an 8" x 10" piece of paper in pencil, and I edit and correct this version of what I plan to do. I then take the corrected version to [print shop] and have them blow it up to the size I want and then trace that onto my canvas. Of course, it always changes once it gets there."

Sometimes a piece will take two hours, another may take four days, while another could take one and a half weeks. She's currently working on what she calls at "Gay ET."

"He is blue and green, but a being, and he looks like a gay dude with intelligent eyes, a forward approach and he is well dressed," she said, laughing. "When I get out of my head it can be a little bizarre, but my works are pretty simple. I always start out with one idea -- a dog, a woman, a tree … after all, I only have one child and one house, I'm not a multitasker."

Her sense of humor is certainly very much intact and although she may see her work as simple, it is much more complex and meaningful than she offers. Even her paintings of "Friends" from the music business are full of metaphors and often capture the personality of the artist with her unique brush strokes.

At 72, Slick is admittedly slowing down a bit, but has no plans to stop painting any time soon.

"If I couldn't paint I'd have some other creative outlet. I always wanted to be a ballerina when I was a child, but after the first class the instructor suggested to my mother that we pursue other arts," she said with a hearty laugh.

Not only will her "420 Collection" be on display here through Jan. 15, 2012, but also many originals and prints of her other popular collections will be onhand. If you missed her in 2010, make plans today.

A gallery in an advocacy role

Alexandar Salazar, owner of Alexander Salazar Fine Art gallery, said he is thrilled to have Slick's work back on display at his gallery, and he is even more proud to be offering his art space as a vehicle for this important cause.

"It is wonderful for San Diego to have this rock legend come back, not only with a purpose, but for a cause, and with a strong message for a town that coincidentally is going through massive changes regarding displensaries. First it showed a need for them and now they are shutting them down," he said.

"Grace has always spoken her mind through her music and this collection has been given a lot of thought with full intention."

Salazar said he is humbled by Slick's dedication to not only her work but the cause, shown by her taking the time and energy to travel from Los Angeles to make an appearance and speak to people at his gallery, despite her many health issues.

Knowing how controversial the topic is within the city and county of San Diego right now, Salazar said he was mindful and took his time when deciding to host this show. His feelings on the topic have varied over the years, but after witnessing his mother's suffering during her painful bout with cancer, he said he was forced to rethink it.

Like most people, Salazar is aware of the potential abuses.

"It should be decided on a case-by-case basis. I'm not a doctor, but it should be left up to doctors and not politicians," he said. "Just like any law, one day it will be looked back on as ridiculous. I am glad my gallery is making a statement just by showing her work."

About the exhibition

Gallery Exhibition: Through Jan. 15
Public Exhibition: Dec. 3, 7 to 8:30 pm
VIP Reception (and press) Dec. 3, 1 to 3 pm
Alexander Salazar Fine Art
1040 Seventh Ave., San Diego
(619) 531-8996
To reserve your VIP spot, email AS@alexandersalazarfineart.com

Photos of Grace Slick art work: Top left: "Peace" with Rescue Rabbit; Middle: "4 Good Reasons"; Bottom: "Nine 11" with Janis.