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STL Art Game-Changers: Stan Chisholm Makes 'Weird Stuff' To Honor His Hometown

Stan Chisholm’s whole working-in-Styrofoam thing started with a need to keep moving.

Wood is heavy. Styrofoam is light. It can be broken into pieces and easily transported in a suitcase or even a backpack, especially important during his car-less time at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Its unconventionality also infuses a bit of dark comedy into Chisholm’s work.

Stan Chisholm surrounded by Styrofoam
Credit Nancy Fowler | St. Louis Public Radio
Stan Chisholm surrounded by Styrofoam

“It’s kind of a parody,” Chisholm, 27, said. “I don’t know anyone who uses foam like me.”

Many people use Styrofoam for decorating parade floats. But a familiar sight along local parade routes is what Chisholm’s currently creating from foam inside his Cherokee Street studio, headquarters for his 18andcounting artistic efforts.

Forget the Arch, toasted ravioli and Ted Drewes. To Chisholm, who grew up as the second of nine siblings in South City, nothing says “St. Louis” like its awnings, tattered and often loosely tethered to aging structures with a grandiose past. 

“You see these beautiful buildings with these weird, janky awnings, like funny little eyelids, hanging off of them,” Chisholm said. “St. Louis is a weird city and I just want to make weird stuff to reflect it.”

In this video, Chisholm talks about his hometown's abundance of bricks and crumbling buildings, and serves up some of his similarly "chunky" and sometimes grisly work. The music is his own. (Story continues below.)

Video credit: Stephanie Zimmerman

'Textures and components coming together'

Chisholm sees his awnings as street art, a kind of 3-D graffiti. So far, he’s only created a prototype but he’d like to do more.

Stan Chisholm with awning prototype
Credit Nancy Fowler | St. Louis Public Radio
The prototype awning

“In order to actually explore it, I’ve got to make multiples, different scales, different sizes,” he said.

The prototype — which almost has a cartoon-town look — is made from hacked-up bits and pieces of previous projects. There’s a good reason Chisholm has lots of leftover Styrofoam: Hardly anyone buys it.

“Most people don’t have room for a six-foot-by-four-foot piece that juts off the wall three feet,” he explained.

You may have seen Chisholm's sizeable Screwed Arts Collective collaborative projects at St. Louis' Regional Arts Commission (RAC). He's also known for his street-art statements on money, bags marked with dollar signs, filled with fake currency, and dropped in Chicago, then St. Louis and Tokyo.

But how does any of this make real money? Chisholm's sold a couple of large pieces, taught classes and taken commissions. This past December, a $20,000 RAC fellowship bought him a precious commodity: free time to make art and music.

Chisholm’s also a rap artist who is putting out a new seven-inch record in August with a buddy from Chicago. On the side, he has regular, all-vinyl Lord Have Merzy DJ gigs.

“Some people don’t even know I’m a visual artist. They just see me out there playing music,” Chisholm said. “A goal of mine is a slow merging of all these things.”

Chisholm doesn’t see his music and his sculpture as two different pursuits.

“It’s all the same. If I’m drawing something or writing some text, it’s the same thing to me as putting music together, as writing and recording a song,” Chisholm said.  “Textures and components coming together is all it is.”

This is the third in St. Louis Public Radio's STL Art Game-Changers series. Look for more Art Game-Changers in the weeks and months to come.

Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.