Before I was 5, they read me Alice in Wonderland, who takes at least three or four different drugs during that book. It’s not even an illusion, she just flat out takes drugs and flat out gets high. She gets so high she can’t get out of the building. She has to take another drug to come down, literally, so she can get out the door. It’s just filled with drug references.
Another book is Peter Pan. You sprinkle a little white dust on your head and suddenly you can fly. Or Wizard of Oz — all of them fall down in a field of opium poppies and when they wake up, they suddenly see this beautiful emerald city.
So what I got in my head was that chemicals of one sort or the other are going to lead you to interesting adventures. That’s what I was trying to say. You can’t sit there with a glass of alcohol having read me three different drug books and say why are you using those drugs? I thought I’d have a good adventure, and it’s true, I did.
Q: When did you make the transition to painting?
A: It was about 1994. I had just asked the guy I was living with to go home. So I was sad. Animals make me happy, I love animals. So I started drawing animals and plastering them up all over my walls in my house because it made me feel better to look at bears and dogs and raccoons and what have you. My friends would come over and say, "Wow, you ought to really to do that professionally." And I said no, because I didn’t want to get into any business again.
But then I wrote a book a couple of years later (Somebody to Love? A Rock-and-Roll Memoir) and the book agent said, "I want you to draw two rock ‘n’ roll people for the book." And I said, "Oh how corny — rock ‘n’ roll draws rock ‘n’ roll." (She fakes a loud snore.)
But she said just two, so I said OK. So I drew Garcia and Hendrix or something. And I found that I actually liked it because these people have such powerful and diverse and interesting personalities and I could try to plow that through the bone structure.
Q: Are there any similarities between painting and making music?
A: It’s all coming out of the same bag of meat, meaning me. The information is more or less the same in that how I draw is simple and blunt, which is like rock and roll. So apparently that’s what I do. My mother used to say, "Grace, you’re so curt with people. Don’t be so short with people. Don’t be so terse." She used those words to describe what I ought to modify. But that approach has supported me for 40 years so I’m not changing it.
Q: Does the work appeal to the same audience or are you finding new fans with your artwork?
A: I think some people are new because of some of the artwork. Some of the nudes are sumi-ish, a form of [Japanese] drawing where you use very few strokes. Some people like those. Some people like the rock ‘n’ roll icons. Some people like the references to Alice in Wonderland. Some people like the bunny itself. Bunnies go like mad and I don’t think it’s just "White Rabbit." I think, because our world now is so angry and [expletive] up that there’s something relaxing and peaceful about a bunny. Some of it is "White Rabbit" and the relation to that song and era and everything. But so many bunnies sell that I think it has something to do with the gentleness and the attraction to that particular animal.
Q: Were you surprised by the reception to your work?
A: I’m always surprised when anybody likes anything. And they pay me to do it! All my life I’ve been paid to do what I wanted to do anyway. It’s just awesome. I’ve had this fantastic life. I must have done something good in another life because I haven’t done much good this time. I mean good in the sense of being of service and all that spiritual-type stuff. It feels like some kind of reward for something. I’ve really enjoyed my life. The only thing I didn’t enjoy was hangovers.
Q: What kind of schedule do you keep?
A: I paint all the time unless I’m doing a gallery show or something. Apart from that I just paint all the time, around the clock. Because I’m kind of obsessive about stuff.
If I like something, I’m all over it like flies on [expletive]. Unfortunately, that also means drugs and sex — not now though because I’m too old. I can’t stand the idea of old people screwing. I’m the complete addict.
Q: So it was lucky the book agent said, "Do me some drawings."
A: Yeah. Addicts, alcoholics, whatever you want to call them, if they can aim that obsession in the right direction, they’re very effective. I’m sure Hemingway was obsessed with writing as much as he was with drinking himself into a snit. If you aim your addictions in the right territory, you can really crank out some interesting stuff. You get a lot of practice, because that obsession means you do it all the time.
Q: You’ve said painting appeals to you because it has nothing to do with your appearance. What do you mean?
A: Well the thing is, when you get old, you get real ugly. When you’re young, you’re pretty but you’re not as bright. When you’re old, you have a lot of wisdom but you’re ugly.
Everybody says, "No, it’s beautiful. You’re lovely when you’re old. Wrinkles just show I’ve lived." No. I’m sorry, you’re ugly. So I appreciate something I have to do for a living where my appearance is not part of it.
Q: Is it harder to gain respect in one area of the arts when you’re already established in another?
A: I understand the problem in the process so I don’t care. People want the sameness. If you are a ballet dancer, they’re going to balk at you wanting to be a folk singer. That’s just the way human nature is. But you just do it anyway. People write to me and say they wish I’d sing because that’s what they’re comfortable with. I understand that. But I’m not going to change anything.