The legacy of Peter Dent

From a very early age I heard of an artist that went by name of Peter Dent. This artist has been an illusive character in my life, filling my imagination with various works I have created in his name. Peter was a member of my family – a cousin on my mother’s side, his name work and debut exhibition and the Whitechapel gallery have been with me from the moment I became interested in visual arts.

Peter Dent, Ulsterman - Courtesy Whitechapel Gallery, Whitechapel Gallery Archive.

I remember my mother, who attended  his inaugural exhibition – Electric Chicken and other live sculptures – describe to me some of the works on display. The most prominent piece in this early memory, being constructed of rubber gloves which inflated at random. This in my young mind seemed extraordinary. Imagining a world of gloves moving inimitably and continuously. In fact the completed work entitled Ulsterman consisted of a washing board, an image of a chest with medals and three gloves that inflated in a arbitrary way.

A few years ago my mother began delving into our family’s past. Searching through birth, marriage and death certificates to build a picture of where our family comes from – prior to this we had no knowledge reaching farther than my great-grandparents.  This then inspired me to discover more about the illusive and artistic character in our family. As the only living member of my family (known to me)  interested in the practice of art I have always felt a close affiliation to the character of Peter Dent – a man about whom I know so little.

In December of last year I took my first steps into an archive, and on the search to discover more about Peter. This was and will always be a most enlightening and exciting search to have been on. Upon entering the archive, I was greeted with a box filled with images of ; Peter, his work, correspondence and reviews (non of which I ever thought I would come across).

I have always known that Peter was the son of one of my great grandmother’s sisters, with parents who felt ( as I am sure many others did at the time) that there was no career opportunities in the art world, and so he was discouraged to follow his dreams. Peter took accountancy as his career and continued to practice art as a hobby in his attic studio. His works being displayed in pride of place in his parents and other homes of family members. Eventually  Peter took up a foundation diploma in art & design, it was not long after this that Peter found his way to Whitechapel.

This is sadly where my knowledge comes to an end. I am searching for more and looking forward to sharing all my finds with you all.


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