From his perch on a broad beige wall at 20th and O streets, Prince coaxes notes from his guitar, collar open, mouth tight and eyes down in concentration. He’s framed by the white rectangular design of a playing card. He is, in essence, the Prince of Hearts.
“His face is just …” Rhonda Pope Flores said with a sigh, standing under the newly finished mural Monday morning. “(The artist) just nailed it.”
The story of how the late, great Purple One came to inhabit this spot in midtown Sacramento is a one of art, passion and serendipity. Pope Flores is chairwoman of the Buena Vista Rancheria band of Me-Wuk Indians, on whose office the mural appears. She is also a Prince fan in the way that Mozart was a piano player. Her extensive collection of Prince memorabilia – signed posters, records, an authentic guitar and more – is kept in a Victorian house near the office. She displays it at an annual fan event she started in 2012 called “Princeology.”
The most recent “Princeology” gathering took place at the Crest Theatre in September 2016, months after Prince died from an accidental drug overdose. Among the attendees was Rachel Cate, 47, a local artist and teacher at Leroy Greene Academy in Natomas, who refers to Prince’s music as “the playlist of my life.”
After Prince’s death, Cate said she found it hard to listen to his music. But she went to the Crest event anyway and, surrounded by Prince fans and the sounds of a live tribute band, she “turned a corner.” Afterward, she found Pope Flores, 46, to say thanks.
“I was teary,” said Cate, who lives in Wilton. “I hugged her – and then I left. I was like, ‘She probably thinks I’m a crazy lady.’ ”
And that was it. The two didn’t stay in touch. Months later, Cate, who practices street art, decided on her own she wanted to create a mural to honor the singer on the anniversary of his passing.
A graphic designer by trade, Cate used computer programs to design an image and create the stencils she would use in the painting process. She also set about finding a wall. Because it can be tricky getting permission to paint large-scale artworks on the sides of buildings, Cate floated the idea to several locations – and received a go-ahead from two.
“I’d only planned to do one,” she said. “The overachiever in me was like, ‘Let’s do two, what the heck?’ ”
Cate completed the first mural, in the 3100 block of 33rd Street in Oak Park, in late April. She planned to begin the second in early June – twice as big, located in an alley near 10th and J streets in downtown – but ran into last-minute complications with the permissions.
With all the stencils and paints ready to go, Cate put the word out again that she was looking for a wall, and a social media acquaintance connected her with Pope Flores. At first, talking over the phone, neither remembered the other by name. Pope Flores said she thought Cate was looking for financial support for her mural.
“She said, ‘No, I need a wall,’ ” Pope Flores said. “I’m like, ‘Well, I have a really big wall, but what’s the mural? She’s like, ‘It’s Prince.’ And I’m like, ‘You’re kidding me.’ ”
They talked further, eventually arriving at last year’s Princeology event.
“I just said, ‘Oh my gosh I can’t believe it’s you. This is the coolest thing ever,’ ” Cate said.
The wall on 20th and O streets, Cate said, was “perfect” – except for the power lines suspended across it about halfway up. To avoid them, she rented a boom lift that offered more maneuverability. The lift arrived July 11. Cate began working immediately.
Her technique, in basic terms, involved taping the stencils to the wall, spray-painting the uncovered areas and removing the stencils to leave the desired images. For this mural, she applied five layers, each a different color, working outward from a base of color by adding layers of shadow and, finally, white highlights.
Cate said her working days lasted nine to 12 hours. As temperatures crept into the triple digits, she started around 6 a.m. to take advantage of early shade. She pounded water and, at the invitation of an employee, took breaks in the air-conditioned refuge of a nearby office building.
“I would lie down on the tile of the entryway in the office,” Cate said.
Cate put the finishing touches on the mural July 16. In all, she said, she probably spent about $2,000 on the project, buying supplies and even diesel fuel for the lift.
“Someone who has that much passion about something needs to be commended,” Pope Flores said. “She did this from her heart. She didn’t get paid for this.”
The mural, Pope Flores said, is “amazing.” Just as remarkable is that the Prince devotee “can say I met my match in that department.”
“We definitely feel like Prince had something to do with this,” Pope Flores said. “The other (location) didn’t work out. He definitely directed us into each other’s paths.”