Call it a sign o’ the times.
Prince’s iconic symbol rises high on the rock bluffs over Red Wing again.
A city work crew with a bucket of black paint blotted out a tribute that fans had painted after the singer’s death. But after pleas from the Minneapolis-born artist’s fans — including a Red Wing City Council member — the glyph is back.
Both tributes were the work of Joe Gibart and his friend Brian Paton, who hiked 400 feet up Barn Bluff, twice, and spent two chilly evenings spray-painting a farewell to Prince on a stretch of city land that generations of Red Wing residents have used to scrawl messages that are too big to fit on a page or in a Facebook post.
They started painting their latest farewell at 1 a.m. the day after his death and by dawn the swooping lines of Prince’s symbol stood out in purple contrast against the bluff again, along with a big red “16” to mark the year of his death, and a “1999” to commemorate one of his biggest hits.
It took a ladder, $50 to $60 worth of paint and a cold night’s work to bring “Red Wing back to [its] former glory,” Gibart said Thursday on Facebook.
“It feels great,” he said in a phone interview later that morning. “When we got approval, we took it and ran with it. We were not going to wait another minute.”
The men created their original mural overnight last Thursday on the rock that for the past 60 years has served as the town’s unofficial billboard and has featured everything from flags to smiley faces, graduation years and memorials. But somebody called the city to complain that Gibart and Paton’s handiwork was offensive, so the city sent crews to paint over the mural that hundreds from the area had come to see.
Gibart and Paton painted the first tribute as Minnesotans were still reeling from Prince’s sudden death less than 24 hours before. They made the steep climb in the dark and left their mark, painting for four hours until Prince’s symbolic glyph rose high on the ridge, along with the dates that bracketed his too-short life: 1958-2016.
By that Monday, it was gone, blotted out by a city work crew. The rock sits on city property, but crews only censor the community graffiti when there’s been a complaint — like the time someone painted a swastika, or the time they blotted out a depiction of a Confederate flag. Most recently, the city painters moved in after high school students painted the name of Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump.
Erasing a tribute to a Minnesota icon like Prince puzzled and upset many in town, including Gibart. Within days, a few Prince symbols had returned to the rock: a purple “1999” and a peace sign.
“The city literally turned it into a black blob, and that offends me,” Gibart said. “It’s a bummer. Here they have this cool thing on the bluff and something much better than what had been painted recently. I’m disappointed.”
Red Wing officials issued a statement saying it was simply a response to complaints about the purple symbol.
“The City of Red Wing is following current policy of painting over anything on the bluff when complaints are received,” a news release said.
The explanation did little to calm the uproar among Prince’s grieving fans in the community.
After watching a screening of the movie “Purple Rain” Wednesday night at the city’s historic Sheldon Theatre, Red Wing City Council member Dan Munson posted on Facebook a wish for someone to paint the bluff, Gibart said.
Hours later, Gibart and Paton grabbed their supplies and went to work.
Fans in the community welcomed its return.
“Wish granted,” said Bill Hanisch, who runs Hanisch Bakery and Coffee Shop.
Star Tribune reporter Jennifer Brooks contributed to this report.