Wearing a paint-splattered tuxedo and holding up to three brushes in each hand, Denny Dent would attack the canvas. In a frenzied motion, he’d outline faces, blend colors and dance in front of crowds who gathered to watch him paint.
From a sidewalk or stage, Dent would turn on some music and create instant masterpieces of Tina Turner, Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith and Miles Davis on 6-foot-high canvases. He performed his trademark “two-fisted art attack” in front of 300,000 people at Woodstock ’94 and painted a portrait of Beethoven during a Colorado Symphony Orchestra concert.
Born in Oakland, Calif., Dent dropped out of high school and spent his early adulthood mired in drugs and alcohol. A year after John Lennon was murdered, Dent brought an easel to a memorial and began to paint an image of the singer. A few nights later, he was hired to open for Steppenwolf in Los Angeles.
Dent spent the 1980s entertaining college students with his artistic performances, and the 1990s working the art festival circuit. Despite his speed and obvious skill, he turned down an offer to be listed as the world’s fastest painter in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Dent died on March 29 of multiple organ failure. He was 55.