Ben Bauman describes the impulse to pay tribute to SOLVE as compelling.
The irony was sharp as a knife. Mother Fool's Coffeehouse provides a permission wall on the east side of its building, where artists for many years have painted murals at intervals of about one month. But its opposite wall, facing Ingersoll Street, was one of the places that got tagged in the outbreak of SOLVE and R.I.P. SOLVE graffiti in Madison after the June stabbing death of the celebrated street artist and East High School alumnus Brendan Scanlon in Chicago.
You can understand why Mother Fool's proprietor Jon Hain might have been put out. "Pretty lousy way to 'honor' someone's death," he wrote on The Daily Page Forum, considering the perpetrator "could have done a nice piece on the other side of our building."
Now, someone has. And it's not only a nice piece, it's a mighty nice piece: a pixelated portrait of a smiling Scanlon rendered larger than life. Way larger than life.
"I love it," Hain says of the work, created by Ben Bauman. A Shabazz High School alumnus who studied with Madison figurative artist Robert Schultz (whose own work will be exhibited at the Chazen Museum here this fall), Bauman has gone on to enroll at the American Academy of Art and is now in his final year at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Bauman's proficiency and confidence are in evidence all over the Mother Fool's permission wall. Working from a four-by-six-inch group photo provided by Scanlon's family, he says, he scanned Scanlon's image into Photoshop and "rasterized it," a process that affects pixel dimensions, color modes and resolution.
Printing out the resulting image, he painted the picture on the wall using a ratio of one foot on the wall to one inch on the printout. "It's the first time I've done a pixelated piece to this scale," he says. The results are impressive, calling to mind the work of Chuck Close.
Scanlon "wasn't a guy I knew terribly well," Bauman notes. "We hung out together in Madison," and they overlapped at Shabazz. Moving to Chicago around the same time, they enrolled in different art schools there. Bauman recalls hanging out at Scanlon's place no more than once or twice, but they shared "plenty of mutual friends. He's one of those guys I'd see around," Bauman adds, remembering Scanlon as a "nice guy. Always had a smile on his face."
That smile is now beaming from the Mother Fool's permission wall. It took about 80 hours to complete the work, Bauman notes -- a string of eight 10-hour days. Scanlon's parents stopped by "quite often," he adds, "to see the progression of the work."
Bauman describes the impulse to pay tribute to SOLVE as compelling. "Honestly, I felt like I wasn't the one who should be painting this tribute, because we knew each other so loosely," he allows, "but I felt somebody had to do it."
He notes that some sort of SOLVE tribute wall is also being discussed in Chicago. Other tributes included T-shirts available from Formula Werks at online video look at the mural.
Bauman, meanwhile, appreciates the attention his SOLVE tribute is drawing at Mother Fool's. "The ephemeral quality of it seems fitting for the subject matter," he observes without irony. "If it gets painted over in a month, it's not the end of the world."