I was hired as a speed painter to provide entertainment for a hospitality suite at a massive trade show for the grocery and convenience store industry. The client very wisely went with my trifecta – our best show – Ray Charles, John Lennon and Lady Liberty!
We love to perform this show because I have performed it so many times that me and Team PaintJam have it down to a science. Show business is all about avoiding as much risk as possible, while taking the risk of performing live in front of people. Anything and everything can and does go wrong, but if you do it right, the audience never notices.
We began with Ray Charles. Often, clients think that Ray does not fit their theme or that it will not go over. Ray is the best thing in my bag for a host of reasons. First off, I LOVE Ray Charles. I always have. That smooth silky voice, fantastic writing great musicianship. Cool, hip, 50’s and 60’s vibe. He is an national treasure and an instantly recognizable icon. When my video went viral of me painting him, his family reached out to me.
This made me very nervous. I wondered why they were calling me? After I explained what a fan I was, I was told, “Thank you for keeping the memory of our patriarch alive.” And then there was a small voice in the background that chimed in. “Tell Dan Dunn that he wouldn’t even be famous if it weren’t’ for Paw Paw!” I totally agreed. Thank you Ray – you were and are a blessing to the world.
Second, the photo that I studied to learn to paint Ray was shot from backstage with the lights splashing over his face from the spotlights. So all I am really painting is the light on the face. When it is upside down it is undetectable until I am ready to show it to an audience. Of the 150 or so paintings in my repertoire, this is the most bulletproof one that I have. When I spin him right side up, audiences world wide gasp! You can feel it on stage. It’s electric.
Lastly, I have a choreographed routine that I hired a producer to help me work out for this one. It looks like a clown act. I put a dot of paint and take a bow. I paint more, decide that there is something wrong, step back size it up and continue as if what I am painting is obvious. I stop again and get the audience to clap. Finally I stop and pantomime to the “now wait, wait“… “Ho, ho… HOLD IT!” bit and turn around to lead them in the “Uhhh’s and the Oh’s”. Then I paint the glasses and teeth in and flip it. And electricity runs through the audience.
The more they think it’s an artsy-fartsy clown routine… The more they think I’m a hack, the more confused they are… The more they LOVE it when I surprise them!
I finish up with yellow and red handprints, a signature and handprint to my signature on the final note of the song.
I kills! Every single time. Why would I not want to start with that?
Next is John Lennon. A Jeff Beck instrumental cover of “A day in the life” plays. I paint paisley’s and strange designs on the canvas. The music picks up. I start to define things. Just painting with white on a black canvas. I add red to an area. It takes shape and becomes John with red tinted round glasses. I paint in the whites of the eyes and spin to reveal it. The music swells and I throw various colors of splatter. I outline the hair. I sign and handprint on cue to the iconic piano “Taa daa” note. The music fades into John singing. I lead the audience in singing along. “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope some day you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.” Then “All you need is love” plays as we change canvas for the next painting.
I wash my hands in a bucket, check my face for spatter in a small mirror and pick up a mic wrapped in a sock to keep it clean. We make a mess, but keep everything clean!
I deliver a short monologue. I talk a bit about how my daughter put my Ray Charles on YouTube. How I put my own version up on YouTube and it had 150 views in a month. And 100 of them were me checking it every day to see how it was doing.
I talk about how people started calling and telling me that I had 10,000 views. The next day it was 30,000 views. It was a million views by the end of the week. It climbed to 13.5 million views.
We were the 45th most viewed video on youtube. Yahoo featured me painting Lady Liberty on their homepage on the 4th of July. Now we have performed for YouTube twice, talking about how the first year of PaintJam we performed in 100 cities and 11 countries. How that led to Ellen, Fallon, the Super Bowl pre Game show, Carson Daly, Nat Geo, Japanese TV, Oprah, etc. All because of my daughter Rachael. I mention “The three fastest forms of communication. Telephone, television and tell-a-teenager!”
We estimate that s many as 100 million people may have seen my Ray Charles video in one form or another. That leaves 250 million in the US that have not. People that have seen it, nudge the others in the audience. “Watch this!”.
Then I present the audience with my challenge: “That first painting took me 5 minutes and 15 seconds. The second painting took me about the same.”
I ask whether they would like to see a painting done faster or slower – they always say faster! I tell that to the audience, and say “except at the prison show!” I ask James, my stage manager if he remembers that? He nods. “And the middle school show.” A softer laugh.
James cues “Little Wing” and I talk over it. “I have a piece of music that’s 2 1/2 minutes long. When the music starts, I will start painting. When the music stops, my name is Dan Dunn and I will be DONE! Would ya’ll like to see THAT? O.K!… I hope this works!”
James cues a cover of the Jimi Hendrix Star Spangled Banner. (We use a version that just plays the main theme by Russ Freeman of the Rippingtons. No Taps or negative messages!)
I paint Lady Liberty holding her upside down until I turn her slowly as I paint her crown. I cannot recall a performance in the states where this did NOT get an instant standing ovation.
On the last notes I have a sponge shaped like a star and I hit it in the blue field around her head, then sign it and handprint on the last note.
James throws mylar streamers on “Home of the Brave.”
What makes this work, in addition to the patriotic thing, is that after Ray and Lennon, they are looking for Hendrix. I flip it using that as the misdirection to produce a feel good America piece.
And the crowd goes wild!