Dent was born in Oakland, California to a family of artists and graduated from Oakland High School. "My grandfather was ambidextrous," he says, giving a nod to the gene pool for his two-fisted talents, "a cabinetmaker and an artist. My mother was a painter and always told me I was an artist. That's the heritage of the family." Though no one's been able to verify it, Dent's grandfather insists they are direct descendants of Titian, the Renaissance Italian master. He credits his mother with influencing his art.
In 1981, he was spending days in a bar in Las Vegas, "trading pictures for pitchers," in his phrase, when he heard that a radio station was planning a vigil in a local park to observe the first anniversary of John Lennon's murder. His style emerged after he painted that portrait of John Lennon at a 1981 vigil. "I called the radio station and said that I'd like to come and express myself", Mr. Dent told the Rocky Mountain News. "They said, 'What do you do?' and I told them I could paint with both hands. I was very emotional, and they sensed that and saw that I was basically harmless, so they said, 'Sure, come and do it.' Dent married Ali Christina Flores.
By 1995, Dent had fallen in love with Colorado and moved to Denver. He became a celebrated artist and was an inspiration at the Cherry Creek Arts Festival. It is Denver where Dent mentored his only student, Brian Olsen, in hopes of passing on not only the style of painting but his approach and philosophy. Olsen continues to carry on Dent's performance painting style. "Denny would be proud," according to his widow, Ali Christine Dent.
A Denny Dent performance, which he referred to as a "Two-Fisted Art Attack," consisted of him rapidly painting on a 6-foot-tall (1.8 m) black canvas with multiple brushes in both hands, as well as painting with his bare hands, to a musical accompaniment. Over the course of just a few pop/rock songs, he would complete a portrait. His subjects were most often musicians, but also included other entertainers, sports figures, and political leaders. One of his most famous performances was at the Woodstock '94 concert.
Mr. Dent could also paint with his feet, but seldom did so in public. What he called his "dance on canvas" featured maniacal, mesmerizing movement, but he regarded the sermons he shouted over the music while he painted as his main mission. He said he turned down mention in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's fastest artist because he feared the distinction might detract from his inspirational message about the saving graces of art.
"I'm out to disturb the heart of the nation," he told former President Gerald R. Ford when he painted him in eight minutes at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, according to an article in The Rocky Mountain News in 1995. "I've got no time to lose."
A painting that Dent did of Albert Einstein hangs in the Lecture Halls building at the St. Louis Community College–Meramec campus.
In popular culture
On the History channel series Pawn Stars, Dent's green painting of Jim Morrison is featured prominently on a wall of the shop. The shop also has on display Dent's paintings of Stevie Wonder and Jimi Hendrix, and in one episode acquired a portrait of John Lennon painted by Dent.
- Martin, Douglas (April 4, 2004). Denny Dent, Who Made a Performance Out of Painting the Famous, Dies at 55. New York Times
- Denny Dent Facebook Page Facebook
- Olsen, Brian (29 January 2015). "Denny Dent My Mentor – Brian Olsen Art In Action". Brian Olsen. Retrieved 7 May 2015.
- Presco, Jon Copyright 2014 (February 9, 2014) Tales of the Artful Stalker Ten rosamondpress
- Martin, Claire (March 31, 2004). Denny Dent painted with frenetic style. Denver Post
- Harrison, Rick (2011). License to Pawn: Deals, Steals, and My Life at the Gold & Silver 2011. Hyperion, New York. ISBN 978-1-4013-2430-8.
- "Family Feud" episode of Pawn Stars, first broadcast on History on May 28, 2012.