Dan Lacey never saw Prince in concert or owned any of his albums. But the day the music icon died in 2016, something compelled Lacey to go paint outside Paisley Park in Chanhassen.
“I was in the mood to do a large painting,” he said. “So, I went down there and set up under the tree right across the street. I felt like this would be useful.”
Lacey, of Elko New Market, returned to Paisley daily to paint and attend to the Purple mementos that fans left on Paisley’s fence.
The modest and soft-spoken Lacey became an unofficial ambassador, cheering fans in person or via social media and even giving away some of his paintings of Prince.
Lacey died Monday at a Twin Cities hospice of glioblastoma brain cancer. He was 61.
“Artistry and humanity were manifest in him,” Jeane Bakken wrote on Lacey’s Caring Bridge site. “I only wish I’d purchased a portrait of The Purple One. Purple has a bit less color now.”
Lacey’s Caring Bridge site includes comments from dozens of Prince fams — as the Minnesota megastar called his fans — from as far away as Australia and the Netherlands. Social media accounts featured tributes.
“Dan was our purple concierge, and his absence will be immeasurable,” tweeted Gina Maxwell of Cleveland.
“Dan was very open, very accessible,” Prince aficionado Marilynn McNair of Atlanta said Monday night.
She met Lacey in October 2016 outside Paisley Park. A woman parked her car and asked Lacey what he was doing. He was holding a photo of Prince as a model for his painting. The woman blurted that she’d love to have that wonderful photo.
“It was his study picture, and he just gave it to her,” McNair recalled.
McNair, who owns seven Lacey prints of Prince, said the painter would take his easel anywhere — whether Bunkers bar with music lovers dancing or a crowded Chanhassen restaurant — and do his work.
In an interview last year with the Star Tribune, Lacey said he did not want his cancer to be part of his story about preserving Prince’s legacy. The artist had surgery for a brain tumor but continued to paint whether in a hospital bed or his home studio. His frequent social media postings chronicled his medical procedures and progress.
“He was quite the trooper. He was so matter of fact sometimes and very open about accepting” his health situation, McNair said.
Too modest to tout his acrylic artwork, Lacey primarily viewed himself as the self-appointed caretaker of mementos that fans leave on Paisley’s fence and in the tunnel connecting Lake Ann Park with Prince’s property.
“The most important thing I do is I retire things,” he explained last year. And try to repair them, laminate them and put them on display again.
“I’m not the biggest Prince fan,” Lacey admitted. He never went inside Paisley Park. But the fans have [embraced] me. It’s a good group of people. Most of my friends now are Prince people from all over the world.”
Sara Savoy of Prior Lake met Lacey outside Paisley Park the day Prince died.
“He was definitely quirky and different as a lot of creatives are,” said Savoy, who befriended him. “But his heart was so in the right place. People were drawn to the fact that he was really, really genuine.”
In December, Lacey confided in Savoy that he had a dream in which Prince helped him out and therefore he felt he should in turn honor Prince.
McNair said that Lacey told her that he had been religious but lost his faith years ago. “Prince’s fans gave him back his faith,” she said. “It just changed the way he saw life.”
In the 1980s, the self-taught, Brooklyn-born artist painted portraits on a Las Vegas street and later in the lobby of the Rio casino. There, he met his future wife, Chris, a harpist who urged him to move to her home state of Minnesota about 25 years ago.
In 2000, Lacey created a now-defunct Christian comic strip, “Faithmouse,” in which he once questioned how Prince could sue his followers for posting copyrighted videos online. Then he received a “weird message” on his blog: “Dan, u don’t know how it feels. One day u’ll be famous and then u’ll understand.”
Yes, it was Prince.
Lacey liked cats (he had a pet) and pancakes (they showed up in his paintings). He often wore a knit cap depicting a stack of pancakes, complete with butter and syrup.
With a whimsical streak, Lacey became known for incorporating pancakes in his portraits of famous people, including Barack Obama, Gillian Anderson and Kanye West. He sold his paintings — and print reproductions — on Etsy. One original work was famously purchased by Seattle rapper Macklemore — a nude of Justin Bieber with a pancake on his privates.
Using photos and videos for inspiration, Lacey painted hundreds of portraits of Prince, selling them for a couple of hundred dollars ($20-$40 for prints).
Lacey sometimes painted with his canvas upside down to pay closer attention to the details, he told Savoy.
“These fans are honestly distraught,” Lacey said last year. “I’m doing something purposeful. I’m supporting the people who would like his legacy to stay alive. I’m just a hack, a happy hack. I’m happy to help.”
Lacey’s family will hold a private service with a public memorial to be scheduled later.
Jon.Bream@startribune.com @JonBream 612-673-1719