Gunpowder Guru: Jackson artist Danny Shervin creates outdoor art with a unique, flammable medium

By on March 1, 2018

anny Shervin and his college buddies were messing around with gunpowder in an attempt to make rockets late one night in Bozeman, Montana. The gunpowder spilled onto the laminate kitchen table and Shervin brushed it into the shape of a tree and set it on fire. The landscape he’d created burned into the table. It looked cool, but Shervin didn’t think much about it.

Years later he started playing with the gunpowder and about six years ago started using it to make and sell art. He’s now sold pieces he’s created with gunpowder around the world.

One of his latest works, “General Sherman,” hangs at Wonderspot through the month. The piece is a two-sided creation showing a moose head. One side is the skull and the other represents a live moose.

It took Shervin nearly six hours to pour the nearly two pounds of gunpowder he used and place it on the canvas before he lit it on fire and it burned for eight minutes.

Planet Jackson Hole caught up with the artist to talk about his unusual medium. The following was edited for length.

PJH: What were you studying in college when you accidentally discovered gunpowder for art creation?

Shervin: Finance and economics — not art.

PJH: So how did you get interested in art?

Shervin: I’ve always been into art. Since I was a little kid, I was always drawing and painting. Wildlife and landscapes have always been what I’ve been drawn to, or animals in general. Most of my work is based on landscape or wildlife or things like that.

PJH: You are originally from Jackson, how did growing up here impact your work?

Shervin: I’ve always been outdoors and loved the outdoors. There’s a lot of inspiration. It’s easy to look around and find subjects I want to turn into art. I go fishing for the weekend and I find all kinds of idea.

PJH: What is your process in creating work with gunpowder?

Shervin: I don’t draw anything out on the canvas. Sometimes I’ll do sketches in a sketch book and use that as a reference for the larger work. I find the canvas side I want to use and start by pouring gun powder out. Sometimes I’ll pour a loose design with the gunpowder and then I use paintbrushes, toothpicks and foam brushes to push the gun powder around to where I want. That’s what I like about gunpowder, it’s a workable medium. I can continue to move it around to get it into the position I want.

Then I just light it on fire and it burns and typically I can burn it all in one go. That’s what I also like, the finale. Burning it gives it that finality. Once I burn it, it’s done. You’ve got to get it laid out and it’s got to work perfectly. I’ve had times where I’ve had the wrong gunpowder or too much gunpowder and the canvas lights on fire. When I get to that end and light it, nerve-wracking. I don’t know if it will work until its done.

PJH: What kind of gunpowder do you use?

Shervin: The gunpowder I use is all smokeless powder, but there’s all kinds of smokeless powders. The ones I like to use the most is this pellet that comes in all sizes. They don’t get too hot when they burn. They all leave a distinct pattern when you burn them. I’ve seen folks try to us black powder, but its super explosive and not safe.

PJH: What do you put the gunpowder on?

Shervin: I’ve done work on wood and canvas. Then this last piece, the piece I did for JH Public Art, Bland Hoke and I mounted sheets of Formica and mounted it to plywood and the Fomica burned really well. I might use more of that in the future.

PJH: How did you decide on the piece for WonderSpot?

Shervin: Moose are awesome, nobody can deny that and everybody loves moose. It was easy to give the people what they want.

PJH: What will happen to the piece when it comes down?

Shervin: It’s going to Gregory Lane on the side of Mike’s Body Work.

PJH: Are you a full-time artist, or do you work elsewhere in town?

Shervin: I also work at First Interstate Bank.

PJH: Has your work changed in the last six years since you started professionally working with gunpowder?

Shervin: Significantly. My work was a little simpler, I would say at first. I would kind of let the gunpowder do the design. Over the years I’ve gotten better at using the gunpowder to shade and create the style. With different gunpowders I use I can use different techniques, it’s always changing. PJH

About Kelsey Dayton

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