For more than 60 years people have hiked to the top of Barn Bluff in Red Wing, Minn., and painted a rock that towers more than 400 feet over the city with flags, smiley faces, graduation years and memorials. The rock has served as the town’s billboard.
On Thursday night, Joe Gibart and his buddy, Brian Paton, made the steep climb and added their artistry, spending four hours creating a tribute to Prince featuring his symbolic glyph and the years 1958-2016.
The Minnesota musical icon died last Thursday at his home in Chanhassen.
In a move that has angered some city residents and perplexed others, city crews on Monday painted over the two men’s handiwork that hundreds from the area had come to see.
“The city literally turned it into a black blob, and that offends me,” Gibart said Wednesday. “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.”
The rock is located on city-owned property and is seldom a center of controversy. The city has a policy to paint over the rock if it gets complaints, and that’s only happened a few times, said Bill Hanisch, who runs Hanisch Bakery and Coffee Shop. He recalled the instances when somebody adorned it with a swastika and a Confederate flag, and most recently after high school students left “Donald Trump” messages on it, a reference to the Republican presidential candidate and billionaire.
But when the city got a couple calls from residents who found Gibart’s artistry offensive, the city sprayed painted the rock black. By Tuesday, a peace sign was painted into the black blob, with “1999” nearby in purple paint.
“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 move, however, has created quite a stir in the Mississippi River town of 16,500 residents and on social media, where many were saddened and shocked that the city took action. Hanisch said the city goofed when it covered Gibart’s Prince tribute.
“We don’t have anything to light up purple and somebody does this amazing tribute and they got a couple complaints that it was offensive. Now it’s an eyesore. Prince fans are extremely disappointed.”
The city has scheduled a public meeting on May 12 as part of the Barn Bluff Master Plan to allow stakeholders to weigh in comment on the current practice related to the painting on the bluff. Until then, the city “will continue to follow the current policy,” a news release said.
Gibart is open to recreating his mural, but won’t until he gets assurance that it will be allowed to stay.
“It seems the City Council felt that this was Prince and it should have been left alone,” Gibart said.