The Art of Speed Painting

Speed painting is both a painting and performance style that grows more and more popular with time. The terms “speed painting” and “speed painter”, however, fail to describe the multiple skills needed to produce quality artwork of this type.

Denny Dent is recognized as the first painter to introduce this type of painting style to the American art scene in 1981. His frenzied live performances captivated countless audiences who sat in utter amazement as they watched him produce great artwork (usually of famous people) through unique techniques known as an “Art Attack”. Although he passed away from heart complications on March 29, 2004, his flamboyant, passionate style of painting lives on.

Speed painting has a freestyle element to it that expresses an artist’s talents to the fullest extent as they produce a work of art with showmanship. Instead of just capturing a particular subject on canvas, a speed artist dares to go a step further, by giving the image personality and animation through choreographed music, constant motion and the several choices of colors–these are the principles of speed painting.

The audience’s anticipation of seeing blotches of paint slowly turn into a recognizable figure is partly why speed painting is such a great art form. The performance aspect of speed painting typically involves the use of up to six paint brushes as well as the use of the artist’s hands and elbows that aid in techniques like flipping, spattering and even throwing paint at the canvas in order to create the illusion of chaos as the image is brought to life.

More often than not, the artwork takes second stage to the actual performance. Seeing a speed painter bring Mick Jagger to life within minutes is a real showstopper. Furthermore, the impact made on an audience listening to inspirational music while watching the face of Dr. Martin Luther King being captured on canvas brings deep admiration and respect for the artist bringing this unforgettable leader to life.

I won’t argue that “speed painting” is the modern term for this style of art. In my opinion, however, this term doesn’t give the performance and the skills of an artist who holds true to the principles embodied by Denny Dent enough credit. I highly encourage you to take advantage of any chance you may have to witness this art form live to get the true sense and appreciation of what speed painting really is.

Going by the name only, most of you probably assume that speed painting only involves creating an image on canvas within a very fast period of time. To describe it more accurately, speed painting can be compared to seeing a great singer live in concert as opposed to seeing their picture on a wall. It brings life to a portrait in a way that you could never experience visiting an art gallery, since the creation of an image or portrait is accompanied by mood music as the artist splashes and spreads dynamic colors across the canvas with energetic flair.

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BRIAN OLSEN               

Performance Artist Brian Olsen - Art in Action