Tag Archives: gunpowder


I am sure that if you are a regular reader of our fabulous blog (I know, it’s my humility that holds me back!), you will be aware of the artist Cai Guo-Qiang (pronounced Tsai) who specialises in using gunpowder in his art and today he is internationally acknowledged as one of the most remarkable artists of our time.

Cai predominantly lives and works at his studio in New York and spends a great deal of time at the gym, which he believes keeps him young and his mind and body in sync. The fact of the matter is, he is really fit and for 60 years old, not looking too shabby.

Today, Cai produces giant pieces of work, using his preferred medium; gunpowder – some of which are more than 7 metres long Cai let China when he was 29 to move to Japan where he started experimenting with gunpowder.

Today, he places layers of gunpowder sprinkled over a canvas and stencils which were then linked with pyrotechnic fuse (e.g. quick-match) which is taped into place before being transported to a special pyro lab close by where before being lit, huge sheets of cardboard are placed over the canvas to cut down on airflow – reducing the chance of fire/scorching of the canvas.

Many of his older artworks were predominantly black and white and it was only following the death of his much-beloved father and grandmother which prompted the addition of colour.

In 2014, he courted controversy with his ‘One Night Stand’ project in Paris for La Nuit Blanche which was a whole night event where studios, galleria and museums opened all through the night and Cai had been tasked with creating something special. The first part of the One Night Stand was 12 minutes of music and stunning fireworks (why 12 minutes? This is said to be the average time a Frenchman makes love for – yeah right matey!!) before 50 red tents were very subtly lit from the inside whilst couples got ‘jiggy with it’ inside – all very subtle and erotic and then a beautiful firework finale.

Cai Guo-Qiang

More recently, a documentary has been created for Netflix called ‘Skyladder’ which was about the creation and successful realisation of a 20-year long ambition to connect the heavens and earth
together with a ladder. The ladder was created by using double-stranded wire coated in black powder and suspended from a hot air balloon before being lit in darkness leaving what looked like a
ladder to heaven.

The video of the event was leaked and within 2-days, 30 million had viewed it online and yet on the day of the successful realisation of his ambition, only a couple of hundred people were there from the little fishing village. Sadly, Cai’s grandmother who had been fit and well until she was 98 and had a fall and she was never quite the same. She was fortunate to be able to celebrate her 100th birthday and see Cai’s work come to fruition (especially as she was his greatest fan) thanks to modern technology and facetime, she got to see it as it happened which was fortunate as she passed just one month later.

#EpicFireworks Firework Art. David Sena & Cai-Guo-Qiang would be proud :)

In 2017, he was commissioned to create an art installation which would mark the 7 th anniversary of the creation of the world’s first nuclear reactor by physicist Enrico Fermi. 75 years after achieving the iconic mushroom cloud Cai brought in the assistance expertise of one of the oldest firework families worldwide; Fireworks by Grucci, who have been entertaining the masses with fireworks since the middle of the 19th century. The result was beautiful.

This was not, of course, the first artwork commemorating the nuclear age as there is a 12-foot bronze sculpture created by Yorkshire’s own artist and sculptor Henry Moore.

Given Cai’s constant and ongoing inspiration and influences, whether commissioned or his own imagination running riot once again, we will, of course, keep you up to date with the beauty and
thought-provoking work of the world’s greatest famous Gunpowder King.

Cai Guo-Qiang: Mystery Circle, Exhibition Edit from MOCA on Vimeo.

Over 40,000 rockets blasting off from the wall of the Geffen Contemporary.

On Saturday April 7, artist Cai Guo-Qiang marked the opening of his exhibition with Mystery Circle: Explosion Event for The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; a site-specific work created for MOCA. This edit was made to be viewed in our galleries as part of Cai Guo-Qiang's installation.


Director: Felipe Lima
Producers: Lana Kim, Jett Steiger, Bret Nicely
Cinematographer: Larkin Donley


Bonfire Night Is Coming

So it has come to our attention that BBC 1 has revealed that it will be showing a three part drama called ‘Gunpowder’ and it has to be said we are all very excited about. The series is to be set around the early 17th century and is all about the evolution of the plot that could have seen King James I assassinated when Robert Catesby came up with his plan to blow up the Houses of Parliament.

Guy Fawkes Mask box, Bar at the End of the World, Paris, France

The mini drama will not be based around Guy Fawkes but more around the mastermind behind the plot, Robert Catesby. Catesby who will be played by ‘Game of Thrones’ very own Kit Harrington will narrate his story in the lead up to the gunpowder plot. What
pushed him to come up with such a daring plan and how he managed to get as far as he did without detection. Harrington has also revealed that Catesby is actually a direct ancestor on his mother’s side and that is what led him to play such a role and tell the story not many people know.

Liv Tyler, Tom Cullen and Shaun Dooley will also star in this 3 part drama as Catesby’s cousin Anne Vaux, Guy Fawkes and Sir William Wade respectively. This all-star drama really has us all in anticipation as it shines a new light on the plot and tells the story from the plotters point of view rather the widely known facts that we relate to 5th November. It also shows us how Catesby managed to get Fawkes, the man you think of as soon as Bonfire night is mentioned to join such a plot as well as showing the roles of the other conspirators that did their part to blow up the King in 1605. The caption for the series is ‘Behind every plot, Is a mastermind’ and we hope that this series will show us why we today celebrate November 5th as Bonfire night!

Guy Fawkes, "Next Time, I'm Using Epic Fireworks"

More details about the BBC One drama can be found here 🙂



We all know that fireworks contain gunpowder but what else can it be used for?

Gunpowder was accidentally discovered in China by a Monk over 2000 years ago. It was originally packed into bamboo canes, which when lit released a noisy crack which in turn was thought to away the bad spirits that surrounded them.

Years later its potential was realised and very soon weapons of all kinds were designed from cannons to muskets, grenades to rockets. It wasn’t until the battle of Mohl in 1241 when Europeans first witnessed its explosive power. Just imagine seeing this magical powder for the first time; it must have been absolutely terrifying and perceived at the time as the work of the Devil. The Mongols had now been using gunpowder for some time for blowing up fortifications, firing exploding rockets into castles and of course cannons, the first ever recorded use of a cannon happened at this battle.

Skipping forward to the 14th Century records show the first instance of gunpowder being manufactured in England. Obviously it was a closely guarded secret at the time, so needed to be kept in a secure location. The Tower of London became the English Crown’s primary factory of gunpowder with a number of other castles later being hastily provisioned to allow stocks of the powder to be made and stored, mainly for cannon and musket use.

Gunpowder goes BOOM! Lego goes click-click

Nowadays, although there are many more powerful explosives available, black powder is still used in some quarries as high explosives detonate with a supersonic wave, when all the mass explodes together it is known as detonation, where as black powder deflagrates (burns much slower) therefore does not smash up the rocks into small pieces making gunpowder preferable due to bigger rocks selling at a higher cost.

During the Napoleonic Wars (1803 – 1815) it was commonplace for the soldiers to eat salted horse meat.  When the salt ran, out gunpowder was used to cure meats as it contains various salts – what it tasted like was a different matter but better than starvation.

Imagine the scene ….. you are a sailor on board a ship and have recently been in one or two skirmishes and have an injury which appears to be ‘going’t wrong way (as we say in Yorkshire) as a result of which, the ship’s surgeon tells you he will be amputating your leg but has ran out of alcohol but he proclaims that it will be fine as he can use gunpowder as an antiseptic instead – job done.  The sailor might just have managed to sneak a small amount away for later use but what would he use it for?  The next day he could be sporting a Jolly Roger tattoo as they would use pins to mark out the design, then rub black powder into the open wound to permanently colour the marks black.

If the sailor at their next port of call picked up a barrel of brandy or run and he overindulged a little, he might just sprinkle a little gunpowder into his drink to cure his hangover.

In 1673, Christiaan Huygens, a noted mathematician, built the World’s first internal combustion engine which was powered by gunpowder not very successfully, as it kept clogging up the exhaust vents with the sooty deposits.  Unfortunately, to date, nobody has managed to successfully build an engine powdered by gunpowder, unless you know better.

Today, gunpowder (or black powder) has been used in the following guises:

  • FIREARMS – in bullets and cartridges
  • EXPLOSIVES – for quarrying
  • FIREWORKS – across the board
  • FUSING FOR FIREWORKS AND EXPLOSIVES – quick match etc to enable professionals to fire a number of pieces at the same time without the delay
  • MEDICINE – as both an anaesthetic and as a hangover cure
  • FARMING – farmers use small amounts of explosives to rid their fields of stumps

It just goes to show, from the humble beginnings of an accidental discovery to curing ails and meats and of course winning wars, gunpowder is a truly wonderful thing.