Arts profile: Chalk-art duo Dangerdust is moving on

Jesse Tigges, Columbus Alive

When the anonymous duo Dangerdust walked in to CCAD's Loann Crane Center last Thursday, which houses the chalkboard displaying their chalk/graffiti art, death was in the air. It wasn't intentional - yet seemed appropriate - the pair were both wearing their signature black jeans and T-shirts as they were preparing to wash away their final illustration. It marked an end for a specific project, but not the demise of Dangerdust.

Since beginning the chalk-art project last September, the two recent CCAD graduates, whose individual alter-egos are Dan and Dusty, have experienced a whirlwind couple of months. Dangerdust had only a handful of Instagram followers after they bombed their first chalkboard with a quote from British street artist Banksy last September. As of Tuesday afternoon, the Dangerdust account (@ddccad) has more than 65,000 followers.

"Two weeks ago we had 11,000 [followers] and then it just continued mounting," Dusty, the taller of the two, said.

Dangerdust has skyrocketed to the social media stratosphere, boosted by attention from Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, Viral Nova and the "Good Morning America" website. The internet is in a fervor over the elaborate chalk art Dangerdust creates on a weekly basis - sneaking into the Loann Center at night - incorporating quotations from artists, writers, activists, icons, etc.

"We have a catalog of quotes that we'll refer back to and see if there's something that stands out or feels appropriate for that week," Dusty said. "Sometimes we relate it to current events. This one (a rendering of Dr. Suess' "Oh, the Places You'll Go!") we did as an ode to graduation. We did the Martin Luther King board for Black History Month and Nelson Mandela the week he passed away. Sometimes it's based on that and sometimes it's based on something fun."

"For the Calvin & Hobbes board we were just thankful for our friendship, so we wanted to make an ode to that. And people love Calvin & Hobbes, so you can't go wrong with that," Dan followed up.

It's not surprising Dangerdust has attained so much attention; their work is stunning, while possessing an easily approachable charm. In fact, the only people who seem surprised are Dangerdust.

"It's basically just shrieks and screams every time [we appear on a popular website]," Dan said with a slight chuckle because the twosome never expected this much interest.

As for what's next for Dangerdust, the pair is keeping it quiet. They haven't made any final decisions while focusing on the ripple-effect of Dangerdust's viral swell.

"It doesn't really feel over because we haven't stopped working. We're just trying to fill Etsy orders right now," Dan said referring to the 400-plus prints sold so far.

While Dangerdust is busy maintaining its online shop and web presence, they're also taking some personal time off after four years of schooling - and a senior year augmented by the weekly designs. It's a time to both reflect and contemplate future endeavors, which will be revealed "soon," while taking on freelance design work.

"It's kind of sad that it's the last one, but it's also good to move on. That project really served us well … but I feel like it's a good time to take a step forward," Dusty said. "We want to keep posting and start a new project because we've built up this following."

"We can't let that go. We're thinking it will be another weekly project … and maybe incorporate paper into it," Dan said.

Whatever Dangerdust does next will surely get attention, and I'd be remiss to not acknowledge that's partially borne out of anonymity. Akin to Bansky, the mystery factor creates buzz. But that's not why Dangerdust chose Banksy for their first board, revealing they hadn't originally intended to be anonymous.

"We identified with Banksy as a graffiti artist. We felt like we were graffiti-ing the chalkboard. I think that idea led to being anonymous and mischievous," Dusty said. "When you're putting this out there, underneath this identity that's not really your own, that's freeing … we've developed a voice for Dangerdust."

"One night we were tossing out names and we liked Dangerdust because [Dusty was] coughing up chalk dust," Dan added.

"It was just ridiculous enough to be perfect," Dusty replied.

A public appearance at April's CCAD Spring Art Fair - because students must man their booth and not have someone step-in for them - furthered Dangerdust's identity. For the first time, they donned the black hoods, and according to Dusty, it resulted in one individual proclaiming, "I'm going to find out who you are, I promise." Dan's response was simply, "You can't tell, but we're smiling, I swear."

So who is Dangerdust?

Keep guessing, because their identities won't be revealed here. I will tell you that Dan and Dusty are clever yet humble, and quiet, but well-spoken. They also share a jocular nature when interacting; they "go way back," having known each other since grade school and are roommates. The kinship is key to the creative process.

"It does seem like it would be a little bit awkward to be working on a board [together], but there hasn't been any elbows to the eyeball or anything," Dusty quipped.

Dangerdust's final board is now washed away - it's why the duo added faux-chalk outlines with masking tape at the foot of it - but a legacy (and a message) has been left behind.

"We've left a little note so hopefully someone will use it," Dan said.

"We hope that someone takes over the board because it will be sad to see it empty all the time," Dusty added.

Photos by Meghan Ralston