DENVER — Audiences gasp in amazement as Denny Dent, with three brushes in each fist, screams, dances, and jumps while painting a mural-size canvas in the time it takes two songs to play.
The hybrid art form, combining painting, music, and choreography, which he calls "Art Attack," caught the eye of the Guinness Book of Records. They wanted to catalog Mr. Dent as the world's fastest painter. But Dent says that would be missing the point.
"The paint is secondary," Dent says. "It is the message that's important. The near-miracle of my painting is only the vehicle that allows me the opportunity to share my message with an audience."
Former President Ford once asked Dent, before Dent's act at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, why he painted so fast.
"I'm out to disturb the heart of a nation. I've got no time to lose," Dent replied as he prepared to paint a huge portrait of Mr. Ford in eight minutes to the rhythms of patriotic music.
His shows last from one to two hours, starting off slowly and building to a verbal and musical climax. Dent usually does more than one portrait during his performance.
And Dent has quite an audience to speak to. He has performed for President Clinton, Pope John Paul II, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Jerry Garcia, Julio Iglesias, Frank Sinatra, and Jim Carrey.
Most of his works are bright, almost fluorescent portraits of American icons such as John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Marilyn Monroe, John Coltrane, and others, immortalized on a black or blue background in thick, stark, agitated brush strokes in Abstract Expressionist style. The result usually is surprisingly realistic, despite the short time Dent gives himself.
His canvases sell for anywhere from $5,000 to $40,000, and his works on paper for $2,000 or more. He charges $15,000 to $20,000 for his performances.
At the Cherry Creek festival in his home city of Denver, Dent's acts bring in nearly 50,000 fans, says festival president Bill Charney.
"He's quite an attraction. His show is a great metaphor for the arts festival itself, for the message of his performance is that art is for everybody and everybody is an artist, and we can all relate to art regardless of our backgrounds and education," Mr. Charney says.
Dent was raised in a family of artists. "Art was around me my whole life, and I was always encouraged," he says.