Artist Deon Doughty Is Chronicling the Local Music Scene, One Painting at a Time
Painting, to paraphrase the late Jackson Pollock, is an act of self-discovery whereby every good artist paints what he is and what he knows. And local painter Deon Doughty would certainty agree, since he's spent the last three-and-a-half years doing just that.
The 43-year-old artist is one of the biggest die-hard supporters of the Valley's music scene that you'll ever meet. Hands down. And since 2011, he's used his fervent love for local bands and musicians to inspire a number of paintings capturing some of Metro Phoenix's brightest and most talented performers doing what they do best.
Dubbed the "AZ Rockstar Gold" series, Doughty's artistic creations depict a "who's who" of local music -- including such names as singer/songwriter Walt Richardson, Garnet of Dry River Yacht Club, bassist Paul Cardone, and comedy rocker Page the Village Idiot -- usually in mid-performance. Each of the 30-odd portraits, which are often rendered in silhouette fashion using shades of gold and blue paint, are a snapshot of a single moment in time that convey the subject's energy, personality, and verve.
"Its been about picking some of my favorite musicians and bands and documenting the greatness of their music," Doughty says.
If you've hit up many of Metro Phoenix's local music hot spots, especially over in Tempe, in recent years, there's a good chance you'd see Doughty working on one of his latest creations off in a corner while bands are performing.
The paintings has become one of Doughty's hallmarks and has served as chronicle of sorts of the current state of local scene, especially with many of the musicians and bands who call Tempe home. In fact, a majority of the subjects featured in the "AZ Rockstar Gold" series either reside in the city or regularly perform at its music venues.
Its one of the reasons why Josh Roffler and Dan Miller, organizers of "The Tempe Sound" retrospective currently on display at Tempe History Museum, chose to include Doughty's series in the exhibition.
"When they saw the paintings, they told me it would go great in conjunction with the exhibit," Doughty says. "They said, 'Here we've got a great deal of the past and you're representing what's going on with contemporary music in Tempe.' So its cool that all these bands that I love are now living history in a sense."
But while that's definitely a laudable accomplishment, it wasn't necessarily one of Doughty's goals when he began the series back in April 2011. Instead, he says, he just wanted to create paintings featuring some of his musician friends.
Doughty, who has been creating art since early childhood ("I first drew the shark off of the Jaws poster after the movie came out") and later studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, had a particular interest in pop icons throughout his career.
"I've always been fascinated with pop iconography," he says. "So I've drawn people like Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison...all the big stars and pop icons, even people like [George] Gershwin and [Albert] Einstein."
This fascination with pop icons has also dovetailed with Doughty's interest in music. Its had a "definite impact" on his artwork ("I listen to music all the time when I paint") and has also influenced him in starting his own bands beginning in 2006, such as the "impromptu-improvisational" group dDough and the Cringe and later the comedy rock act Hi-Fi Beta.
"I've definitely been in the Arizona scene since like 2006," Doughty says. "It was right around the time I got divorced, because my [second] wife told me that I could never have a band, and so that was the first thing I did after we split."
He also began hosting open mics and spoken word sessions, like at the original Big Fish Pub in Tempe, which is where he connected with local musicians like vocalist Meredith Moore and guitarist Mikel Lander (who later formed The Sugar Thieves).
"We used to share a night with Deon at the Big Fish Pub back in the day," Moore says. "He'd perform and was hosting an open mic over there and we'd often play afterwards. He's always been this all-around man and a man about town."
And as Doughty friendships within the Phoenix music scene increased as he performed and attended shows more, he began feeling a growing need to give something back, especially after some conversations with his friend and fellow musician Brian Neil.
"Brian was in my band Hi-Fi Beta, and we talked about the music scene almost every day and what we could do to build it and make it better," Doughty says. "So basically, I came up with the idea for the 'AZ Rockstar Gold' series."
Doughty also had a growing desire to get away from making art of rock 'n' roll superstars he'd never met and focus more on local icons and friends.
"I eventually made a decision to no longer paint people that I did not know," he says.
So when Travis from Japhy's Descent invited him to paint at their 4/20 show in 2011 at the now-defunct Long Wong's at the Firehouse, Doughty leapt at the chance.
"It was this crazy show we were putting on with a Batman bounce castle and like 13 bands and all kinds of craziness,'" Travis says. "And I asked him, 'Deon, no offense, but you're a much better painter than you are a musician, why don't you come out and do live painting?' So he came out, took a photo of me, and did the first painting of me."
Doughty was more than happy to come out to the show and to create a painting of the vocalist and guitarist.
"I'd wanted to paint my friends for a long time and decided to start with him," he says. "And it all kinda grew from there."
Long Wong's at the Firehouse, which closed earlier this year, also became one of Doughty's preferred haunts to check out shows and paint.
"I had my own corner of that place that they reserved specifically for me [by] this window in the back where I could see the bands and still paint at the same time," he says.
And Doughty's been doing a lot of painting and show-watching over the last three-and-a-half years. In fact, when he wasn't working at his day job as a web developer or software engineer (full disclosure: Doughty is a former employee of New Times' parent company, Voice Media Group) he's been hanging out and creating art at venues like Tempe Tavern, Crescent Ballroom, Last Exit Live, Lost Leaf, and the C.A.S.A. Lounge. He's also been a regular at the Apache Lake Music Festival.
"Basically anywhere there's great music is where I'm trying to be," he says.
And that's one of the cool things about him, says Travis.
"Once Deon started going with his paintings, you couldn't go to a show without seeing him at whatever show you were going to on your night off," he says. "This is something he's really put his heart and soul into. And to watch how quickly he was able to start doing other people, it just showed how passionate he was about it."
After creating his painting of Travis, Doughty moved on to Page the Village Idiot ("Because he's the shit...he was a big influence on my music"), his fiancee and local vocalist Rachel Johnston, and then Walt Richardson.
The local singer-songwriter legend, who was recently honored by the city of Tempe as the first inductee of is "Music Walk of Fame" along Mill Avenue, says he really enjoyed Doughty's painting of him. So much so that Richardson used it as the official art work for his 60th birthday celebration and concert (entitled "A Day for Walt") back in January.
Deon Doughty in front of his "AZ Rock Star Gold" exhibition at the Tempe History Museum.
From there, Doughty created portraits of an immense list of local musicians, including Moore, Adam Bruce from Mergence, Kevin Loyd of Banana Gun, Kalen Lander (a.k.a. TKLB), Jonathan Messenger from Snake! Snake! Snakes!, Kevin Redlich of SweetGrass, David Moroney from Wooden Indian/Party Gardens, Matt Bush of Sasquanaut, and such members of Future Loves Past as Sarah Hibner, Eric Palmer, and Tristan DeDe. The painter has also done renditions of KWSS personality Beef Vegan, the late musician Andrew Duncan Brown, and several members of now-defunct band What Laura Says, like Danny Godbolt, Mitch Freedom, and James Mulhern.
All of the aforementioned works are featured at the Tempe History Museum as a part of the "AZ Rockstar Gold" exhibition, which Moore says represents both the past and present of local music.
"Its pretty neat to walk through and see Andrew Duncan Brown up there and a couple of other musicians represented for bands that are no longer around, like What Laura Says, for example," she says. "So its not only a representation of the musicians and other outfits playing today, but you're able to reflect where the music scene was like a few years ago and where its been and some of what we've lost."
Because the focus of the series is music-oriented, Doughty also created a multimedia component with a website devoted to the series (www.azrockandroll.com) containing songs featuring each musician and biographies written by local scribe (and New Times contributor) Mitchell Hillman. Special QR codes are displayed next to each paintings that, when scanned by a mobile device, brings up each artist's page.
Richardson says both the Doughty's paintings, the website, and the exhibition are all part of a larger story chronicling the history of music in Phoenix.
"I think its all just the tip of the iceberg. Going forward in time, it could even tell a larger story as these artists continue to grow and tour and expand in their work and their music" Richardson says. "I think what he's doing is beautiful and it tells a story of the music scene."
And Doughty will keep on painting local musicians whenever and wherever he finds them, Travis says.
"Everyone's concerned with whether or not there's any culture here, but Deon's living proof that there is, and he's listening and paying attention and using other people to inspire him to create his own," Travis says. "That's what culture is all about, especially with the [music] scene. Venues close left and right, but he's still keeps on going and is at the next thing that opens up or the next house party or festival or whatever's going on in someone's backyard."
Deon Doughty's "AZ Rock Star Gold" exhibition will be on display at the Tempe History Museum through January 25.
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