years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and played loud rock
music, Dennis Larkins was busy bringing set design out of the Paleolithic
with revolutionary arena rock stage concepts. Under the aegis
of legendary promoter Bill Graham, Dennis brought a vision of monolithic
drops to life in the form of towering painted backdrops and scrims.
Taking what he'd learned as a painter
of stage backdrops for the San Francisco Opera, Dennis almost single-handedly
designed and painted the set decorations for Bill Graham's annual
"Day on the Green" music festivals, such as the original
legendary "Monsters of Rock" festival (featuring Aerosmith
and Ted Nugent), concerts for Led Zeppelin (in what would prove
to be their last American concert), the Eagles, Journey, and many
more legends of Seventies rock.
This legendary period of rock music,
marked by much musical experimentation and diversification, not
to mention the explosion of music as an industry, was also an extremely
fluid and experimental time for set design and show presentation.
Live shows in the Fifties and Sixties
often consisted of little more than the musicians lined up on a
bare stage, surrounded by the raw equipage of electric rock, with
perhaps an occasional lit backdrop or gel-tinged spotlight to provide
growing popularity of rock music, as well as Bill Graham Productions'
development of the stadium/arena as a venue for concerts, demanded
performances that delivered a memorable show, more than simply a
band belting out its "greatest hits". One of the
easiest ways of doing this (from a promoter's point of view) was
to jazz up the stage on which the band performed. Today's
elaborate stages, with their pyrotechnics, banks of special lights,
and shifting colors were born in the Seventies. And Dennis
Larkins was one of the earliest developers of these revolutionary
new staging concepts.
Working from a design, often conceptualized
in conjunction with BGP producer Peter Barsotti and executed in
a matter of days (at best), Dennis, under tremendous pressure, would
literally paint the full sized drops by hand. Hung from the
stage superstructure, the sheer scale of these sets can best be
appreciated by viewing the photographic evidence presented below.
While he was busy enough creating and
painting this new breed of rock set designs, Dennis was also performing
yeoman's work as a graphic
artist for Bill Graham Presents, producing t-shirt designs and
posters, work that would end up continuing (on a freelance basis)
for some years after Dennis' set design days were over.
Dennis' career as a set designer reached
its zenith when he designed and implemented the Rolling Stones 1981
American tour set package in conjunction with Japanese graphic artist
was able to then develop his connections in the entertainment industry
and the next two decades saw an evolution into a respected career
in themed Exhibit and Attraction design. Dennis was able to apply his set design experience
to a job in the Disneyland Parade Float Shop, where all those nifty
floats you see making their way down Main St. three to five times
a day are constructed. Not long after landing that job, Dennis
moved up to a desk job as an Imagineer. He later went on to
work for a diverse spectrum of theming outfits, both on a freelance
basis and as full-time employee, from the Korean company SuperTech
to local contractor SpectraF/X, from MCA/Universal to Warner
Bros. Studio Stores to Sega GameWorks.
Needless to say, Dennis filled what free
time he had with his own work in fine art. It was during the
Seventies and Eighties that Dennis developed and refined his dimensional
technique, at first with great gobs of paint, later in mixed media
using various plastics and flexible materials.
Clicking on the link below will take
you to an interactive timeline that traces the development of Dennis'
personal and professional art in the realms of Fine Art, Exhibits
and Attractions, and Graphics and Illustrations.