Dan Lacey has never seen Prince in concert or owned any of his albums. But the day the music icon passed away in 2016, something prompted him to paint outside Paisley Park in Chanhassen.
“I was in the mood to do a big painting,” Lacey said. “So I went over there and sat under the tree just across the street. I thought that would be helpful.”
Lacey, from Elko New Market, returned to Paisley daily to paint and tend to the purple memorabilia fans had left on the Paisley fence. Modest and soft-spoken, he became an unofficial ambassador, consoling fans in person or via social media and even gifting Prince paintings.
Lacey died Monday at a Twin Cities hospice from glioblastoma brain cancer. He was 61 years old.
“Art and humanity were evident in him,” Jeane Bakken wrote on Lacey’s CaringBridge site. “Purple has a little less color now.”
Dozens of Prince’s families – as the Minnesota megastar called his fans – from as far away as Australia and the Netherlands posted tributes there and on social media.
“Dan was our purple janitor,” tweeted Gina Maxwell from Cleveland.
Marilynn McNair of Atlanta said she met Lacey outside Paisley Park in October 2016. A woman parked her car and asked Lacey what he was doing. He was holding a picture of Prince as a model for his painting. The woman let slip that she would like to have this magnificent photo.
“It was his study photo, and he just gave it to her,” McNair recalled.
McNair, who owns seven Lacey prints of Prince, said the painter would set up his easel anywhere – whether it’s the Bunkers bar with dancing music lovers or a crowded restaurant in Chanhassen.
The artist was operated on for a brain tumor but continued to paint. In an interview last year with the Star Tribune, Lacey said he didn’t want cancer to be part of his story about preserving Prince’s legacy.
Too humble to brag about his acrylic artwork, Lacey saw himself primarily as the self-proclaimed keeper of the memories fans left behind on the Paisley fence and in the tunnel from Lake Ann Park to Prince’s property.
“I’m not Prince’s biggest fan,” he admitted. He never entered Paisley Park. “But the fans have [embraced] me. It’s a good group of people. Most of my friends are now Princes from all over the world.”
Sara Savoy from Prior Lake met Lacey outside Paisley Park the day Prince died.
“He was definitely quirky and different, like a lot of creative people are,” Savoy said. “But his heart was so in the right place. People were drawn to the fact that he was really, really genuine.”
In December, Lacey told Savoy that he had a dream in which Prince helped him and so he felt he, in turn, had to honor Prince.
McNair said Lacey told him he had been religious but had lost his faith years ago. “Prince’s fans gave him back his faith,” she said. “It just changed his outlook on life.”
In the 1980s, the self-taught Brooklyn-born artist painted portraits on a street in Las Vegas and later in the lobby of the Rio casino. There he met his future wife, Chris Ward, a harpist who prompted him to move to his home state of Minnesota some 25 years ago.
In 2000, Lacey created a now-defunct Christian comic, “Faithmouse,” in which he once wondered how Prince could sue his subscribers for posting copyrighted videos online. Then he received a “weird message” on his blog: “Dan, you don’t know how it feels. One day you’ll be famous and then you’ll understand.”
It was Prince.
Lacey loved cats (he had a pet) and Crepes (they appeared in his paintings). He often wore a knit hat depicting a stack of pancakes, with butter and syrup.
With a whimsical side, Lacey made a name for herself incorporating pancakes into her portraits of famous people, including Barack Obama, Gillian Anderson and Kanye West. He sold His paints — and print reproductions — on Etsy. An original work has been purchased by Seattle rapper Macklemore – a nude of Justin Bieber with a pancake on his private parts.
Drawing inspiration from photos and videos, Lacey painted hundreds of portraits of Prince, selling them for a few hundred dollars ($20 to $40 for prints).
Lacey sometimes painted with his canvas upside down to pay more attention to detail, he told Savoy.
“These fans are honestly clueless,” Lacey said last year. “I’m doing something useful. I’m supporting people who would like to keep his legacy alive. I’m just a hack, a happy hack. I’m happy to help.”
Lacey’s family will be hosting a private service with a public memorial to be scheduled later.