ThingsThatNeverReallyHappend at Hyde Park Art Center

by Tristan Hummel

“My biggest influence is Looney tunes characters.  You can’t get away from bugs bunny.  Or the biggest character of them all, Mickey Mouse.  I’m not a fan, at all, of Mickey or Disney but Mickey is everything, Mickey Mouse has held so many jobs”
-Stan Chisholm

Cultural wealth is most effectively communicated through a culture’s various icons and other symbols of identity.  For a city, this means the murals, architecture, public sculpture, parks, and artworks amongst other things.  I believe that we are on the cusp of an institutional revolution in our contemporary art making, and it is being born here in the mind of Chicago.   I am seeking those individuals that demonstrate the greatest heuristic efficacy in Chicago’s cultural re-institution, an artist who is on the forefront of this change is Stan Chisholm.

The Hyde Park Art Center bills itself as Chicago’s oldest alternative exhibition space, a provocative claim and one that attracts artists like Stan Chisholm.  Walking through the HPAC towards Stan’s studio, the décor shifts from tile and drywall to newspaper and tennis balls.  The floors and walls of this hallway are progressively more tapped over with everyday objects.  The effect of this temporary installation was worthy of a moment of metaphoric appreciation but Stan appears from behind a door and brings me deeper inside HPAC where he is planning his latest exhibit: ThingsThatNeverReallyHappend.

Stan’s latest exhibit features a cast of drawn characters he has been working with for at least the last 4 years I have been aware of his work.  They are his mascots, trademarks, icons, fetishes, family, and lens.  He is credited with the creation of over 700 of these characters.  Cleverly designed so that upon a superficial inspection of his work it imparts a street art aesthetic in a gratifying way, these works struggle in their depths with a much more fascinating concern; the divorce between social modes of the past and present.

The word icon (Stan’s choice in the description of his characters) first entered our language in the mid 16th century .  It’s point of entry must be understood as occurring just years after the deaths of some of the most important High Renaissance artists.  Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo – all of whom died within a decade of each other in the early to mid 16th century. The word “icon” was created to describe their work, as a reference to artwork that concerned the icons of their time.

These iconic Renaissance figures were all Christian, living in a religious society that made Christianity the backdrop to which life played out. Stan’s icons are exploring our contemporary backdrop.  What becomes iconic in this day and age, what characters are most influential?

Taking the idea of representing these contemporary influences through an abstractionists palette, Stan creates his characters.  Stan is a contemporary François Clouet by way of Giuseppe Arcimboldo.  He is the court painter of the high quotidian lifestyle.  Depicting the everyday man as if a subject of notable renown.  Stan’s work presupposes the broad visibility offered to our persona today on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc… and depicts it as something more personal and unique.  All the while he is doing this there is an exploration of the bizarre.

Stan creates the heads of each character through a complex system of culture jamming and wit.  No one may ever be able to understand how exactly he chooses the make up of these strange heads but certainly all can see the way they function.  Each head is an abstract mess made of intelligible imagery.  House windows, cars, airplanes, hats, walrus teeth, and many more elements goes into each oversized melon.  The head hammers home the iconographic upbringing we suffer as the result of a brand saturated culture. It’s so direct its almost hilarious.

Stan is no Dadaist.  He does not despair in the contemporary world, rather he shows us a way to flourish.  His work helps us understand the past while standing at the bleeding edge of contemporary.  His work is a stunning example of where contemporary art needs to go.  This is where I find Chicago’s unique voice; the ability to connect its icons with the people.  This is where we need to go, the common ground, a conceptual space for the artist and the public to share.  Until that gap is bridged you can taste a piece of it at Stan’s upcoming exhibition.

ThingsThatNeverReallyHappend will be on display at the Hyde Park Art Center from February 14th to June 6th. The Hyde Park Art Center is located at 5020 S. Cornell Avenue Chicago, IL 60615.