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Gallery: Rick Allen paints the legends

Rick Allen standing in front of a portrait of Johnny Cash
(Image credit: Rick Allen)

Def Leppard’s Rick Allen has launched a range of fine art prints. The drummer has always been passionate about photography and art, and having lived in California for the past quarter-century, in recent years he has had numerous one-man shows across America. 

His ‘Legend Series’ is a range of paintings of fellow rock stars, including Eddie Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Tom Petty, John Lennon, Freddie Mercury, Prince, Johnny Cash and, most recently, the late Charlie Watts

A portion of the proceeds from each sale is donated to the Veterans Programs via Project Resiliency (opens in new tab). Classic Rock caught up with Allen to talk portraits, people and palettes.

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You painted a picture for your mother when you were five, but when did you first pick up a brush in earnest? 

I got the bug as a kid. I’m not formally trained, but I really like the idea of full-contact painting, where there’s paint everywhere – more on the ceiling than the paper itself. When my youngest daughter was born, it wasn’t long before we were painting together. That’s what re-ignited my passion. 

How would you describe your painting style? 

Lumpy [laughs]. One of the techniques I like the best is taking a photograph that I love, making it poster-size and sketching it. That makes it a lot easier. 

You have painted many portraits as Legends. Which do you think best captures its subject? 

I’m most proud of the one of Steve Clark [the Def Leppard guitarist who died in 1991]. It was my first, and what better way to pay homage? I sent a photograph of the painting to my mother, who is still in contact with Beryl, Steve’s mum, who said I had really captured his essence. That’s what made me think that I should be doing this. Unfortunately we are losing people so often that I’ve got plenty of subject matter. 

Is there any likelihood of exhibitions in your homeland? 

I really hope so, because you need to see the pieces in the flesh. Online doesn’t do them any justice. But the last couple of years have been very challenging for galleries everywhere.

A portion of the proceeds from each sale goes to a charity that’s close to your heart. 

In 2001 my wife Lauren and I started the Raven Drum Foundation which benefitted incarcerated youths and women’s shelters, anybody that had gone through some kind of extreme trauma. Five years later I visited an Army Medical Centre and was really taken aback by the level of suffering that I saw. We refocused our efforts on something we call Project Resiliency, which gives back to wounded warriors. 

You sympathised greatly with those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Even though my injuries [Allen lost his left arm in a car accident in 1984] weren’t sustained through combat, it’s extreme trauma all the same, and some of the same things apply when you are talking about PTSD. 

Away from paint, what do Def Leppard have in the pipeline for 2022?

In regard to the [North American] tour [co-starring Motley Crue, Poison and Joan Jett], that was moved to 2022 due to the pandemic. We just want people to be safe when they come to the show. Honestly, it’s Live Nation’s call as to whether it goes ahead, but should it do so I think the first date is Atlanta on June 16. 

And what about a new studio album? 

We’re always working on new music, that’s something that never stops, and it will see the light of day as soon as it’s ready. 

Prints of Rick Ellen's artwork can be purchased from the Wentworth Gallery (opens in new tab).

Dave Ling was a co-founder of Classic Rock magazine. His words have appeared in a variety of music publications, including RAW, Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Prog, Rock Candy, Fireworks and Sounds. Dave’s life was shaped in 1974 through the purchase of a copy of Sweet’s album ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’, along with early gig experiences from Status Quo, Rush, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Yes and Queen. As a lifelong season ticket holder of Crystal Palace FC, he is completely incapable of uttering the word ‘Br***ton’.