At first Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen was afraid to admit he had a softer side. Mr. Allen, who has banged out percussion behind the English metal band for decades, started doodling as a boy, but then put such endeavors on the shelf in favor of rock ‘n’ roll.
“I wasn’t sure what people were going to say. Maybe I was afraid of people being judgmental — the musician trying to be an artist,” Mr. Allen, 53, told The Washington Times.
He need not have feared, as Mr. Allen’s immensely personal artwork bears testament to the soul of a creator. His paintings are by turns surreal pastiches of English and American political iconography as well as ethereal depictions of angels.
Mr. Allen was inspired to pick up the brush again as an adult after watching his young daughter creating doodles.
“I would see how she would [create] art without fear — just doing it,” he said. “Her being in the moment … reminded me of where I go when I play music.”
His show, “Rick Allen: Drums for Peace,” will be on display Saturday at the Wentworth Gallery facilities in Bethesda, Maryland, and McLean, Virginia. The collection comprises not only Mr. Allen’s drums but also sculptures and mixed-media works and his personalized jewelry. Portions of the sales of his work will be donated to Project Resiliency, a charity to help wounded warriors, in partnership Mr. Allen’s own charity, The Raven Drum Foundation.
Mr. Allen says that although he had no formal training, he “had plenty of inspiration.” He cites the surrealistic work of Salvador Dali and the transcendental pop aesthetic of Peter Max — who created The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” cover — among his influences. He keeps a sketchpad with him whenever Def Leppard tours, and he also takes photos with his phone to bring back to his Los Angeles home studio later for templates.
“I don’t get time to do art all the time, but I do get time to take a lot of photographs,” he said of the demands of the road. “Sometimes I’ll combine a photograph with painting and do like a multimedia, mixed-media piece. It really depends on what I’m trying to convey.”
Mr. Allen has painted — and drummed — with just one hand for decades, having lost his left arm in a notorious car accident in the British countryside in 1985. At first he was dubious of even continuing in Def Leppard, but his bandmates encouraged him to stay on if he felt he could do so.
“I’m still kind of working on that,” he says of continually learning to navigate life with just one arm, be it as a musician, an artist or a father. “We’re all a work in progress. There’s always room for improvement or doing old things in a new way.
“And playing drums is just one of those things. I get better at it the more I do it.”
Mr. Allen finds inspiration in the reactions that his artworks get from those who see it, believing that not only beauty, but also meaning, is in the eye of the beholder.
“Art is such a personal thing, whether it’s creating the art or viewing the art,” he said. “I love when people come up and tell me what they see and what emotions it brings up in them.”
He said that most of the time, viewers “get” his intentions, but the subjective emotional experience of his fans humbles him.
“I guess they get more of a view into my personal life when [viewers] start discussing what it is,” he said.
Mr. Allen cautions aspiring artists seeking his counsel to find the beauty of their own voice rather than trying too hard to achieve greatness and world renown.
“Try and get into celebrating your uniqueness,” he said. “Try not to compare yourself to others, or try not to compare yourself to yourself.”
Def Leppard has a busy schedule throughout 2017, kicking off a tour with Poison and Tesla April 8 in Manchester, New Hampshire. (The tour stops by the Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore April 14.) Mr. Allen says the constant need to tour helps him continually grow not just as a musician but in all aspects of his life.
“Whether you’re a writer or musician or painter or photographer, I think that all those artistic endeavors are interchangeable,” he said. “I’m able to take inspiration from the music or take inspiration from pretty much anywhere my life takes me.”
Mr. Allen will appear at “Rick Allen: Drums for Peace,” at the Wentworth Gallery in Bethesda, Maryland, Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. and at the Wentworth Gallery in McLean, Virginia, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. More information is available at Wentworth-art.com.