Rick Allen. Photo courtesy of MAD Ink PR

In 1978, drummer Rick Allen joined the band Def Leppard when he was 15-years-old. Since then, he’s toured the world, sold more than 100 million records, and in 2019 was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. 

Best known for releasing chart topping singles such as “Photograph,” “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” and “Hysteria,” Def Leppard is one of the most successful acts to emerge from Sheffield, U.K.’s new wave of British heavy metal in the early ’80s. But not all has been easy. In 1984, Allen lost his left arm in a car accident that left him with neurological damage and a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Music has long been his sanctuary, and over the last decade he has found balance by reconnecting with his lifelong love of visual arts. Be sure to check out his Spotify In the Mix playlist below.

On Dec. 11 and 12, Allen will be at Wentworth Gallery in Buckhead’s Phipps Plaza for the installation of an exhibition of his paintings, titled “Wings Of Hope.”

Before making his way to Atlanta, Allen took a few minutes to talk about his life’s work, how the loss of his arm has affected him, and the importance of projecting positive energy into the world. He also gave us a Spotify playlist featuring some songs that inspire his work.

What prompted you to pursue visual arts?

About 11 years ago, my youngest daughter was born. It wasn’t too long before we started painting together, and I saw how she went into a sort of open-eyed meditation. I recognized that it was the same place where I go when I’m playing music, so it reignited my passion for painting.

How big are the pieces that we’ll see hanging on the gallery walls?

The originals are 4’x4’ and some of the flags are 5’x3.’ Paying respect to the flag is in the work. I soften it with other imagery — hearts, peace signs, and other things like that. It puts a different spin on patriotism. It makes it accessible to everyone. I want it to be open to everybody because we’re all part of this.

“Wings of Hope” by Rick Allen

Tell me about the symbol of the hand that appears in many of your paintings?

There was a time when I might have lost my right arm as well. I broke the ball off the top of my right arm. It had become badly infected toward my elbow, and they couldn’t do anything about the bone until the infection had gone away. I became close with the nurse, and said I don’t care about the pain, let’s just clear this infection out. So she came in every morning, and with lots of prayer and lots of dedication from the people who were trying to save me, we got past it. Every morning, I wake up and count it as a blessing — at least I have this right hand. Plus, I put this hand through hell! It does everything for me, so it’s cool to put it into the pieces.

So painting is therapeutic for you?

Yes, and it’s a vehicle for positive energy. Whether I feel fantastic or not, that’s the mood that will come through. The better I feel, hopefully it makes someone else feel that way when they see it. It’s a unique time in our history, and the more artists who step forward and put good intentions into the aethers, the better off we’ll all be.

This interview has been edited for content and length.

Avatar photo

Chad Radford

Chad Radford is the editor of Rough Draft and an Atlanta-based music writer, editor, and nature lover.