Denny Dent painted with frenetic style
Splashy performances billed as 'Two Fisted Art Attack'
By Claire Martin
Denver Post Staff Writer
Denny Dent, who billed his frenetic painting performances as the "Two Fisted Art Attack" but turned down an offer by the "Guinness Book of World Records" to list him as the "world's fastest painter," died in Denver on Monday of complications from a heart attack. He was 55.
Dent tackled canvases wearing a paint- splattered tuxedo, with three brushes in each hand, music blaring, and preferably before an audience, brushing on color at a furious pace. Former President Gerald Ford, whose portrait Dent painted in eight minutes at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, asked Dent why he worked so frenetically.
"I'm out to disturb the heart of a nation," Dent told the president. "I've got no time to lose."
Dent's mother was a painter of limited means. Dent, who was born in Oakland, Calif., told some reporters that he grew up on welfare and spent the first part of his adulthood in what he called "that mire of drugs and alcohol and the rest of it."
His epiphany came at a vigil commemorating the death of Beatle John Lennon, when Dent impulsively painted a rapid-fire portrait of Lennon on the spot. He began performing in the early 1980s, mostly at colleges and universities where students loved his unique combination of loud music, frantic painting and abstract expressionist portraits of rock singers and movie stars.
His subjects were the men and women whose faces and voices filled college dorm rooms - Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Marilyn Monroe, John Coltrane, Billy Joel, Mick Jagger, Frank Sinatra, Tina Turner, Elton John and others.
By the 1990s, corporations and individuals were commissioning portraits from Dent and hiring him to perform at private events and black-tie fundraisers. He performed onstage at the Woodstock '94 concert, in front of Pope John Paul II at the 1993 World Youth Day in Denver, and at a Colorado Symphony Orchestra concert where he created a picture of Beethoven.
Dent created a portrait of Barry Fey at a 1997 tribute to the Denver concert promoter, and the paint was still wet on his portrait of John Elway when it brought $52,000 at a 1999 Denver Broncos charity fundraiser.
He was a staple at the annual Cherry Creek Arts Festival and other arts festivals throughout the U.S., where his splashy portraits drew applause and high bids from passers-by.
A typical Dent performance lasted from one to two hours. He usually painted more than one portrait, starting off slowly and quickly escalating into an almost choreographed chaos of music, movement and paint.
He described his style as "a dance on canvas," though the vivid colors he favored and his subject matter led many critics to compare Dent to painter LeRoy Newman.
"Everybody's an artist," Dent told his wife. "It's not what you do. It's the way you do it. Do it with all year heart. What comes from the heart, lands on the heart."
Survivors include wife Ali Christina Flores of Denver. Services are pending at Horan & McConaty.