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Thursday, December 25, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 38.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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R.I.P. SOLVE: Murder of Madison East alum Brendan Scanlon spurs tributes
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SOLVE's work is well-documented in photographic and video images that survive him, and his family has asked that those wishing to honor his memory do so by making a donation toward the Madison East High School art program.
SOLVE's work is well-documented in photographic and video images that survive him, and his family has asked that those wishing to honor his memory do so by making a donation toward the Madison East High School art program.
Credit:Kristian Knutsen

The outpouring of SOLVE and R.I.P. SOLVE graffiti in Madison is one measure of the esteem in which Madison East High School alumnus Brendan Scanlon was -- and still is -- held by his friends and admirers in the street-art community. The 24-year-old artist, known as SOLVE, was stabbed to death in Chicago in the early morning hours of Saturday, June 14. A suspect was arrested and has been charged with first-degree murder in the case. But you can't murder an artists legacy.

After graduating from Madison East in 2002, Scanlon moved to Chicago to pursue studies at the Illinois Institute of Art, where he received a degree in visual communications in 2007. He subsequently worked as a freelance artist and as a graphic designer for the Chicago marketing firm Relay Worldwide. But it was as the distinctive street artist SOLVE that he gained the most notice.

SOLVE was admired as much for his inventiveness as for his ability to provoke thought with his creations. In addition to executing large-format paste-ups and stencils, he also made his mark on a series of Chicago signal boxes. His creations appeared in such divergent locations as the backs of stop sights, the front windows of newspaper boxes, and once famously on the screen of a TV secretly installed on a Blue Line L train car. A broad range of SOLVE's work can be viewed on his Flickr Photostream, which features images of street art created over the last couple of years.

Such inspired creative exploits, along with his prolific output, put SOLVE on an upwards trajectory in the global street-art constellation. The ubiquitous memorial graffiti in Madison, along with a proliferation of tributes originating from far-flung places indicate that his reputation for style and substance is known and appreciated by a street-art community that defies geographical boundaries.

As word of Scanlon's murder spread, the response among street artists and admirers was immediate. Tributes in the form of R.I.P. tags and larger works started appearing in Chicago, Madison, and elsewhere the day after his slaying and have continued in the weeks since. Many have been compiled in a SOLVE R.I.P pool on Flickr, which features more than 400 images of tributes.

One online memorial by artist Seth Anderson hailed Scanlon as a "prominent renegade Chicago street artist" and "a major influence" whose murder "delivers a overwhelmingly saddening blow to the art and graffiti community of Chicago." The response from the Chicago Street Art community was overwhelming, as seen in a discussion that followed the murder.

SOLVE's reputation had long since been broadcast far beyond the vicinity of Chicago, though. "We here at NoLA Rising have seen what violence does to a city, a family and the spirit of community," declares Michael Dingler, an artist in New Orleans who is leading a campaign devoted to the artistic and cultural reinaissance of the city still recovering from Katrina. "Let us honor him for his conviction and celebrate his life."

Urb republished an interview that SOLVE gave to his frequent collaborator Swiv several years ago, meanwhile. In it, he addresses subjects ranging from his favorite mediums and his evolution from stencils to paste-ups and screenprints to the roots of his artistic impulses. SOLVE and his work was also noted in a roundup of Chicago urban artists published just over a year ago on Gapers Block.

SOLVE was also the subject of a short documentary recently created and released by the middle mind project.

A longer two-part version of the solve-umentary can be viewed here and here. The fact that his face is obscured in the video to protect his identity from vigilant public officials eager to lower the boom on street artists somehow renders his murder all the more senseless, the loss of all the art he might yet have created all the more acute, and the proliferation of SOLVE and R.I.P. SOLVE graffiti all the more poignant.

Scanlon was murdered during a violent four-hour period that claimed the lives of three other people in Chicago late Friday, June 13, and early into Saturday, June 14, as reported in the Chicago Sun-Times. More details can be found report published in the Chicago Tribune after the killing. He is survived by his parents, two sisters, a brother, a sister-in-law and other members of his family, who celebrated his life with services in Madison on Saturday, June 21.

SOLVE's work is well-documented in photographic and video images that survive him, and his family has asked that those wishing to honor his memory do so by making a donation toward the Madison East High School art program. Contributions can be sent to: Madison East High School in Honor of Brendan Scanlon, 2222 E. Washington Ave., Madison, WI 53704. As declared in Scanlon's obituary: "His family would like to especially thank Brendan's circle of friends in Chicago for loving him so and helping us to understand his legacy, Madison's East Side community for sharing their memories and support, and their extended family for sustaining us with their unwavering love and strength."

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