Artist to paint for First Night He attacks canvas to rock music

December 27, 1992|By William C. Ward | William C. Ward,Contributing Writer

It's described as a "Two-Fisted Art Attack."

Denny Dent, the world's only "rock 'n' roll painter," will join hundreds of artists who will take over the streets of Annapolis Thursday in the annual art coup known as First Night Annapolis.

His unique craft has earned him a place in "Ripley's Believe It Or Not" and propelled him to performances around the world.

Taking center stage, he clenches three paint brushes in each hand and begins his assault on blank canvas. Bopping and weaving to the rhythms of a favorite musician, the tall, bearded painter beats their image out of the surface with fierce strokes, simultaneously bellowing out his creed: "It's not important what you do! It's how you do it!" -- and whatever else comes to mind.

Nearing completion, all in the space of two songs, he casts brushes aside and slathers globs of paint onto the work with his bare hands, molding features with his fingers.

In the end, a portrait of Bob Marley, Elvis Presley or Jimi Hendrix stares out at the audience from atop the paint-spattered easel.

"This is not a race. To me it's a passionate dance on canvas. It's slow at times and other times its a raging locomotive," says Mr. Dent.

He staged his first attack over a decade ago, when the self-described "spoiled brat with a ninth-grade education" found himself down on hisluck in Las Vegas.

On Dec. 8, 1981, a disturbed Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon outside his New York apartment, and sparked something deep in Denny Dent.

"John Lennon gave me something important in my life. He showed I didn't have to be perfect, that I was human," he says.

Overcome with emotion, he gathered painting materials and joined a candlelight vigil for the late Beatle.

"I had never done it before and I wasn't sure what I was doing," he recalls. He set up his easel and went to work. "I painted a young Lennon, and started shouting out what I was feeling.

"I think I was more surprised than they were!" he says, describing his bewildered, teary-eyed audience.

The performance launched him on an artistic crusade that takes him to hundreds of colleges, as well as television shows, rock concerts and events around the globe every year.

His repertoire of about 90 icons includes portraits of Beethoven, Billy Joel and Elton John and non-musicians like Albert Einstein, Charlie Chaplin and Humphrey Bogart. The paintings sell for $1,500 to $10,000 each, and his list of subjects grows each year.

In the beginning, the artist carefully planned his paintings, but now he lets the spirit of the moment take him away.

The paintings reflect the audience, his mood, the music and the life of his subject, and are the catalysts for his emotional outbursts. For example:

"Art is not a thing! It's an expression of the heart, and what comes from the heart lands on the heart!" he shouted during a recent performance. "Wake up and be what you are! This is an art attack!"

He says, "Art comes from the heart. I try to stir hearts up for a living."

Denny Dent will mount his attack at the Key Auditorium of St. John's College at 6:45 p.m., 7:45 p.m., 9:45 p.m. and 11 p.m. He's promised three paintings for each set.

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