Bringin' On The Art Show
Def Leppard's Rick Allen exhibits "Dreams and Legends" at the Wentworth Gallery

By Lee Valentine Smith

Rick Allen first arrived in America 39 years ago this month. He landed in Los Angeles in support of Def Leppard's first album, beginning a whirlwind year of opening shows for such unlikely tourmates as The Pat Travers Band, Ted Nugent and Blackfoot while seeing the country he'd only imagined from TV and books.

Some of those early moments of discovery are captured in the drummer's latest art exhibit "Dreams and Legends." The show is a mix of iconic faces, flags and memories from his childhood in the UK through his current residency in the United States.

Before the multi-million selling band plays a string of European festivals and a Vegas residency this summer, Allen will visit Atlanta's Wentworth Gallery on May 4 for an art show, meet-and-greet and signing session.

INsite spoke with Allen by phone recently to discuss the upcoming show.

People know you from your musical career, of course, but has visual art been an ongoing pursuit as well?

I'd always been into painting and drawing but I really picked it back up when I started painting with my youngest daughter. She would paint without rules and just be completely in the moment. It was very inspiring.

Were you ever apprehensive about exhibiting your work? It's a big deal to share something so personal.

I was a little at first, for sure. But people responded really well to it. And it's given me the opportunity to connect with people in a completely different way than when I'm on tour with the band. You know with Def Leppard, if we meet people It's normally quite brief. Just a 'hi and bye' kinda thing; maybe take a picture and that's it. But this gives me the opportunity to talk to people for longer. I really enjoy getting their reactions and seeing what they like about the art. (Laughs) let's put it this way, it keeps me off the street corners!

That's one of the many uses for art.

It's very healing, really. It's a new way to engage myself with art and the people who come to the show. Artistic endeavors tend to be interchangeable. I've always been into art and photography but then I discovered music. Then I came around full circle. When I started traveling, touring different places all over the planet, I've built an interesting photography collection as well.

For your art tours, do you present only paintings or do you also include photos?

Sometimes it's all paint, like total originals, one-of-a-kind pieces. Then other times I'll do what they call 'mixed media.' Sometimes I start out with a print and then I'll enhance the print with all kinds of paint to make different mediums, different textures. And it's nice because that way, I can create different price points.

Your website notes that every piece has a specific backstory.

That's right. It's kind of a collection of all my life experiences. Growing up in England, then getting into the band and finally making my way to America - it blends my English experience with my American experience. Then when I do a lot of the Legends pieces, I'll listen to the music of the individual I'm painting, so their story is in there, too.

You've incorporated flags into your art as well.

That's one of the first things I did when I got back into painting was to put my own spin on the flag. With a playful approach, almost childlike. I wanted to soften the meaning of patriotism and what it can really mean. No matter what country you come from, to embrace the flag is very special.

Def Leppard really played up the Union Jack on album covers and merch, giving the music a distinct geographical and historical base.

It was a fun way to show people where we're from and that we're different, I suppose. But you know, we borrowed it from The Stones and The Who and I'm sure they borrowed it from someone, too. That whole thing has been a theme and it just seemed natural at the time for us to use it.

Flags represent so much to so many people.

Oh yeah, it's a sense of oneness, of unity. I live in America, so now it's easier for me to embrace the US flag. But not necessarily in the same way everybody else might. America's given me so many opportunities and I don't take my life in America for granted at all. It's very special to me and it's given me a lot of freedom. I think the paintings reflect that because I pull from so many influences. Music, of course, but I include all the places I've been, work that I've done on myself through dealing with PTSD, even working with the Wounded Warriors. It's a rich life for sure and there's always plenty of inspiration.

Rick Allen's Dreams and Legends exhibit is Saturday May 4 at Wentworth Gallery, Phipps Plaza. Showtime is 5 - 8 p.m. For more information, visit wentworthgallery.com.

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