Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen will make his first public appearances in a year this week at three Wentworth Galleries in South Florida to showcase his latest work as a visual artist. The work includes a wide-ranging mix of originals and limited editions, including a series of painted drum art.
He’s quick to point out that it will hardly be a stodgy affair – there’s something for everyone. “When you can’t afford to buy your own art, you know you’re doing something right,” he tells UCR with a laugh. “[But] it is nice to be able to create pieces that are accessible to everybody.”
Allen was supposed to be playing a bunch of sold-out stadium gigs with Def Leppard, part of a massive bill with Motley Crue, Poison and Joan Jett. Enter an unexpected pandemic, and he suddenly found himself with a lot of time on his hands.
He turned to one of his other passions: painting. He also discovered that there was no shortage of inspiration, which helped to put him in a positive frame of mind during a difficult time.
Watch a Video for Rick Allen’s Gallery Show
“I got a wee bit depressed when it first happened,” the drummer says of the pandemic. “But it became a blessing, simply because I could spend time around my family. We all paint, and we all play music. My youngest daughter is a very proficient pianist. So, between myself, my wife and my youngest daughter, we’ve had tons of stuff to do.”
Whether he’s at home or on the road, Allen always has a wealth of ideas percolating in his head. If he’s on tour with Def Leppard, he grabs a camera (another passion is photography) to document things he’s seeing. That becomes source material he’ll return to later, when he’s back home and able to work on his art. “I’m constantly out there on the streets looking for ideas or when I’m out on tour,” he explains. “It’s an ideal opportunity for me to just come up with things that I can flesh out when I get back home.”
He’s particularly excited about his Legends series built around musicians who inspired him as he was growing up. “The first one I started with was actually [late Def Leppard guitarist] Steve Clark,” he remembers. “After I finished it, I sent a photograph of it to my mother. She happens to keep in touch with Beryl, Steve’s mom. She saw it , nd she shed a tear and she was like, ‘Wow, you really caught the essence of Steve.’”
That gave Allen a boost of confidence that convinced him that he should continue to move forward with the concept. Tom Petty, Neil Peart, Janis Joplin, Prince and Jimi Hendrix are several of the late artists who have been featured in the series so far. More recently, he decided to pay tribute to Eddie Van Halen.
“He was totally immersed in what he was doing – that in itself was so infectious,” Allen says, noting the smile that was a permanent fixture any time the guitarist was onstage. “I think it was that that I really wanted to capture. He just struck me as being this really dedicated father. He obviously loved his family dearly. But when he really shone was when he was onstage and just to see him in his element.”
“Eddie, in particular, it was a new way of playing guitar – nobody had really seen or heard that before,” Allen notes. “I believe they had to sort of rethink how they wrote music for guitar because of that. Because of all of the hammer-ons that he did and all of the intricate work that he did with his right hand – tapping on the fretboard and the combination of right and left hands – nobody had heard that before. I think it was a real shock to the music industry [and] the system.”
Thanks to Toto’s Steve Lukather, Allen’s neighbor in the early ‘90s, the drummer eventually got the chance to meet Eddie Van Halen. It was a moment that lived up to all his expectations. “I’d looked up to him for all of those years and finally I was going to get to meet him,” he says. “I wasn’t disappointed. It was really good. He was so unassuming and so humble. Especially when you realize what he actually does. And that between him and Hendrix, they probably changed the face of guitar playing forever.”
Fans can see the Van Halen Legends piece, as well as Allen’s other art, starting on May 20 at the Ft. Lauderdale location of Wentworth Gallery. Subsequent appearances in Hollywood, Fla., and Boca Raton, Fla., will round out the weekend. (You can find complete event information on the Wentworth website.)
A portion of the proceeds from each sale of artwork will benefit Project Resiliency, the organization Allen and his wife, Lauren, formed more than a decade ago to help veterans from the Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
“It’s really close to my heart, because of the fact that I suffer from PTSD myself, from extreme trauma,” says Allen, who lost an arm in a 1984 car accident. “It’s not from combat, but you’d be surprised how many people out there, whether it be sports injuries or car accidents or abusive relationships, you name it, there’s a whole host of ways that you can be traumatized. It’s just one of those things that it’s kind of the least I can do.”
Allen’s work with Project Resiliency has helped him to personally cope with the lingering effects of the accident that changed his life forever. More than that, he has made many personal connections. “I’ve seen so much healing because of my involvement,” he says.
“I’ve gotten really close to a lot of our wounded warriors. I have personal relationships with tons of them. We text, we FaceTime, we have private groups – we still get together, people that I’ve worked with in the past. It’s become a really big part of what I do.”