Maggie Keane Paints Massive Prince Mural in Phoenix

Maggie Keane took this photo of her Prince mural after doing some finishing touches on July 7.
Maggie Keane took this photo of her Prince mural after doing some finishing touches on July 7. Maggie Keane
Take note, Prince fans. Phoenix is now home to a massive mural paying homage to the famed singer and songwriter, who died in April 2016. It’s the work of Maggie Keane, an artist who never saw Prince perform live but has long-embraced his music and creative impulses.

“When I heard Prince died, I knew I had to paint a mural of him,” Keane says.

It’s located on a building at 1350 West Roosevelt Street, which is anchored by the Rodriguez Boxing Club, on a corner where Roosevelt intersects with both Grand and 15th avenues.

That’s part of the Grand Avenue arts district hailed for its funky vibe and focus on historic preservation. Keane officially revealed the mural on July 5, during Phoenix’s First Friday art walk.

click to enlarge Maggie Keane early in the two-month process of painting her Prince mural. - CHARLENE CELESKEY
Maggie Keane early in the two-month process of painting her Prince mural.
Charlene Celeskey
She started the mural on April 27, projecting her design onto the wall so she could draw in the outlines for a series of Prince images she’d spend two months painting. She finished the afternoon of the reveal, when fellow artist Bill Hemphill helped her weld two round 36-inch mirrors over a pair of sunglasses featured in the piece.

The mural is 18 feet high and measures 47 feet wide. She chose the space after driving past the building one day and seeing it already had a long purple wall. Then, she set about getting permission to paint it. The building owner couldn’t pay for a mural, so a friend set up a crowdsourcing fund that’s already raised nearly $1,400.

Turns out, she’d considered painting a wall on a different purple building, which is located in Roosevelt Row. Keane says it didn’t go well the day she popped in to suggest it, recalling that the person she spoke with described Prince as a drug addict.

Keane did a few finishing touches on Sunday before returning the ladders she’d borrowed to paint the mural. Before Phoenix temperatures topped 100 degrees, she painted six days a week for six to eight hours. After that, she cut back to four hours or so a day, typically during cooler morning hours.

Throughout the process, passersby have taken a keen interest in the mural. Once, a total stranger stopped by to talk with Keane, who didn’t notice until the woman left that she was driving a shiny cherry-red Corvette reminiscent of one of the Prince’s most popular songs.

click to enlarge Maggie Keane poses with her mural during the official unveiling on July 5. - MAGGIE KEANE
Maggie Keane poses with her mural during the official unveiling on July 5.
Maggie Keane
The mural incorporates a series of iconic Prince images culled from various sources and periods in his career – including his 1986 film Under the Cherry Moon, his 2004 Musicology tour, and the 3rdEyeGirl band he performed with during the final years of his life. 

The mural reflects Keane’s longtime interests in both music and art. Both her parents were musicians, and she’d often get scolded at school for drawing during math class. Born in Brooklyn in 1955, Keane was raised in New Jersey. She moved to Tucson, where she earned her art degree at the University of Arizona in 1976.

Keane moved to Phoenix in 1982, where she spent several years painting billboards using oil paint and 4-inch brushes. “The billboards were really good practice for painting murals,” Keane says. She’s also spent four decades doing courtroom sketches, most recently during hearings for large groups of people detained at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Nowadays, Maggie lives in the Coronado neighborhood, where she’s painted a few David Bowie murals. The most prominent mural, featuring a series of iconic portraits, is located at Seventh Street and Granada Road. She’s also painted musicians from the bands Ninja Sex Party and the Tupper Ware Remix Party in a popular mural site called the Oak Street alley.

click to enlarge Maggie Keane recalls rocking a hairstyle inspired by Prince. - MAGGIE KEANE
Maggie Keane recalls rocking a hairstyle inspired by Prince.
Maggie Keane
She’s especially fond of Prince’s Purple Rain period, praising the multifaceted creative for both his musical talent and his personal style. “I loved all the intricate designs with paisley, lace, and sparkles,” Keane says. “He used a lot of textures and colors and reflective materials that were really fun.”

For a time, she even styled her hair like Prince. A natural redhead, she’d braid her hair when it was wet, then let it dry so it had great texture once she took the braids out. Her hair is blond now, and often covered with a splatter-covered baseball cap when she’s painting.

Looking at the finished mural, she’s particularly proud of capturing Prince’s “smoldering eyes” and the “inscrutable, mysterious quality” behind his trademark sunglasses. “I’m my own worst critic,” Keane says. “But I feel pretty good about this mural.”
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Lynn Trimble is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer specializing in arts and culture, including visual and performing arts
Contact: Lynn Trimble