A New Collection from Austin’s Favorite Painter, Drummer, & Father
Words by Jess Hagemann Photos by Eric Morales
Richie Deegan would never call his full-time gig as an oil painter ‘accidental.’ If anything, art is (literally) his God-given vocation.
In 2002, Deegan was a Nacogdoches art school dropout and drummer for a successful three-piece rock band. Sundowner’s first album had been licensed by MTV’s Real World, and the trio was regularly selling out 400-seat performances around Texas. Following one fateful show in Houston over Easter weekend that year, Deegan’s friend Brad left Space City around 2 am to drive back to Austin. Halfway home, he lost control of his jeep, veered off the road, and flipped the vehicle 12-15 times in the center median grass. Brad was pronounced dead on-scene.
“That was a real eye-opener,” confesses Deegan. According to the now 42-year-old, all three band members started questioning what they were doing and where they were going in life. “We were all engaged to be married, and we all had to ask ourselves, did we want to continue this sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll lifestyle, or focus on our families?” Although Sundowner had a major record label deal in the works, Deegan was the first member to drop out, and his bandmates quickly followed.
After the band broke up, Deegan married his high school sweetheart (they now have three daughters together), and started a graphic design business to support his fledgling family.
Eleven years later, in 2013, Sundowner’s ex-vocalist and bassist, Bill Brimer, contacted Deegan about a new project. Brimer had since become a Lutheran pastor, and he wanted to contract Deegan’s business to design his church’s logo. The two old friends’ working relationship continued evolving until Brimer’s parish commissioned Deegan for seven huge abstract paintings for their sanctuary. At the time, Deegan wasn’t producing more than one or two new paintings a year.
“[That commission] launched me as a full-time painter,” says Deegan. “My productivity and creativity started rolling, and then people started buying.” At Deegan’s first solo show, held at the Imagine Art gallery (a Christian ministry that empowers artists with disabilities), Deegan sold 30 of the 40 canvases he had on display. His unexpected success boosted Deegan’s confidence, and he quit the graphic design business entirely.
Deegan’s next solo exhibition will open on May 6, once again at Imagine Art. While his first show there was called “A Year on the Horizon” and predominantly featured abstract landscapes, his new show, “Places, Figures, and Faces,” will represent a broader cross-section of the themes and subjects that Deegan most likes to paint: portraits, figure drawings, and more abstract landscapes. Several of the pieces to be shown were inspired by the passing of Deegan’s father in October 2016.
Dark, muted colors and layered textures characterize much of Deegan’s work. He likes to drag squeegees (in the style of German artist Gerhard Richter) and other tools through the paint, then “stand back and see what happens.” Critics have noted a “hurried” quality to Deegan’s style, which he laughs off lightly. “I have a limited window when I can get in the studio and work uninterrupted,” he says, “before one of my daughters is knocking on the door asking for a snack.” Once he finishes a painting, however, Deegan hangs it on the wall for weeks or even months, explaining, “I’ll love it at first, but if I don’t continue to love it, it gets painted over. If I don’t love it, no one else is gonna love it!”
Find Richie Deegan’s art for sale on his website and in galleries in San Antonio, Houston, and his hometown of Boston.
Native Knowledge: Deegan’s next solo exhibition will open on May 6, once again at Imagine Art.
Did you know? Bill Brimer, the singer-turned-pastor who commissioned Deegan’s earliest work, also operates a nonprofit in Uganda. Soul Thirst Africa is a 501(c)3 humanitarian organization dedicated to building clean water wells for refugees displaced by the Lord’s Resistance Army terrorist group. Deegan donated 20% of the total sales from his first art show to STA, and now he visits Uganda once a year to assist STA’s efforts directly. The Ugandan landscape has, of course, influenced his art.