Stan Chisholm is covered in paint. The opening of NewPopII, his solo exhibition at Hoffman LaChance Contemporary in Maplewood, is more than two weeks away, but he's already under the bright gallery lights, using a razor blade to carve hunks of pink Styrofoam into planks, painting them white with a roller and screwing them into the wall to create makeshift shelves. It's messy, painstaking work, and after several hours on the job Chisholm's cutoff jeans and skin are a mess of splatters and drips. He looks like a living, breathing Jackson Pollock painting.
He describes his plan to line the shelves with Styrofoam cutouts of letters that he arranges into "one-line poems," such as, "YourBlogWillBeSeenMoreThanYourGrave." He also has designs to carve a vending machine and a lemonade stand out of Styrofoam.
"It's not pop art," he explains, "but how things become a part of pop art."
His show at Hoffman LaChance opens September 3. Two days later a thematically linked exhibition titled NewPopI debuts at the St. Louis Artists' Guild. The following Tuesday he'll perform a DJ set at 2720 Cherokee under his alter ego, 18andCounting.
Such is the schedule for the tireless 23-year-old. Since graduating from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) in 2009 and returning to his hometown, Chisholm has relentlessly experimented with forms and venues and collaborated with several of his street art-influenced peers, most notably on the Screwed Again mural installation currently on display at the Regional Arts Commission headquarters in the Delmar Loop.
"I've got so many things I want to do," Chisholm says, adding, "The reason I make shit is to communicate with people — to see if the things I care about, the things I'm concerned about, are really legitimate."
Asked to elaborate, he replies, "I'm totally concerned about people not expressing themselves. I'm concerned about adults' lack of imagination, and I'm definitely concerned about dying young."
Chisholm rocks a mini-fro, muttonchops, a goatee and a nose ring. He's the second of nine siblings (one brother and seven sisters) in a family that moved often around the city's Tower Grove and Benton Park neighborhoods. Starting in the first grade, he was bused to public school in Eureka. He's guarded about discussing his upbringing, explaining that he'd rather have people focus on his work and ideas than on the circumstances of his childhood.
"In college it just got to the point where reporters would talk more about me being in school and how many people are in my family than my art," Chisholm says. "So I just stopped talking about it. When I do an interview, I want to find something new about myself, not talk about the past."
As a senior at Eureka High School, Chisholm enrolled in a program managed by the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis called Art in the Neighborhood, which helps aspiring young artists build portfolios in preparation for college applications. Kelly Scheffer, then the education director at the museum, recalls the impression Chisholm made on her.
"Stan back then was a lot like Stan now," Scheffer says. "Very ambitious and incredibly personable. From the first week of the program, I knew Stan had something special. He has a drive that I don't see very often in people his age."
Lisa See Kim, Chisholm's friend and collaborator from SAIC, describes him in similar terms.
"If Stan were to never make a cent off of his work, he would still probably do it," Kim says. "I know a lot of people do that, but I think he would still pursue it as the number-one goal in his life. Most people would say, 'I'll make art as a hobby and work at Starbucks.' For Stan it's not really an option for him. He literally can't think about anything else."
Together with Kim, Chisholm launched a project called MoneyBags. The artists hosted a public workshop at Chicago's Hyde Park Art Center and helped people create fake currency. They stuffed the counterfeits into cartoonish sacks and piled them into a Chicago Transit Authority train car.
Chisholm has also planted the bags around St. Louis, New York and Tokyo. He writes on his website, 18andCounting.com, that the work "transfers the recognizable image of the moneybag from the comic to the real and playfully challenges society's values, the role of currency, the idea of ownership, and human impulses towards greed and generosity."
Public art, Chisholm says, has been an integral part of his life since he was a teenager. He recalls deciding on the 18andCounting moniker when he was thirteen, as "a way to hang out with everyone" in clique-oriented middle school. It also served as an ethos of sorts for his early forays into graffiti and street art.
After earning his bachelor's degree, Chisholm spent the summer in Japan then bounced between Portland, Oregon, and Chicago before resettling in St. Louis. He says he has spent the past year or so "trying to flesh out my imagination" and experimenting with music. He performs as 18andCounting and releases eclectic monthly mixtapes, called 18on18, that drift between genres such as hip-hop, dub-step, Afro punk and electronica.
His ultimate goal is to include a sculpture installation with every performance. The works will be carved from foam so that he can break them down and carry them in his backpack. (He doesn't have a driver's license and travels by bicycle or bus, or by bumming rides.)
"It's no different than street art to me," Chisholm says of his inclination toward genre intermarrying. "And really it's less about the street and more about the people. I'm tired of public art only being in the street. I want it to be quality work in a bar or some cool shit in a library. It's the idea of making something super dope, but really ephemeral."
His show at Hoffman LaChance will include a collection of more than 700 sketches of masks drawn on flimsy paper plates, the images warped nearly to the point of abstraction.
"You see a lot people taking ideas from other artists and repurposing or regenerating them," says gallery co-owner Alicia LaChance. "Stan is very unique. He drops these bombs that are laden with humanity. Those are the biggest percussion of his work. These bombs of humanity and a juxtaposition of sculpture and text."
To help finance his art, Chisholm works as an instructor with St. Louis City Open Studio and Open Gallery, teaching arts and crafts to grade-schoolers.
"These ideas," he says bluntly, "they have to happen."Correction published 8/26/10: In the original version of this story, we erroneously stated that Chisholm graduated from SAIC in 2008. In fact, he graduated in 2009. The above version reflects this correction.