After several headaches, artist Kevin Bate has finally completed his 20-foot-tall portrait mural of blues legend Robert Johnson.
The mural can be seen on the Whole Note Building at 508 E. M.L. King Blvd., which faces Champy’s Chicken. Another of Bate’s murals featuring jazz singer Bessie Smith is on the same building.
Click here to see Bate’s other murals from around town.
“It just made sense,” Bate said. “The building used to be jazz and blues; and then, of course, the most famous blues player is Robert Johnson.”
Despite the legend surrounding Robert Johnson-the story suggests he sold his soul to the devil for the ability to play guitar-Bate does not believe the devil had anything to do with his bad luck.
Originally, he wanted to complete the entire mural in 24 hours on Oct. 30, but it just didn’t pan out. First, his primer sprayer broke; then, he couldn’t get it to siphon any paint.
“I guess the devil wanted his cut,” Bate said. “Actually, the compressor just died at one point, too. I made three trips to Home Depot in three days.”
The mural was finally completed this past Tuesday night. Bate purchased supplies and scaffolding with money he received in 2012 from a MakeWork Grant.
As for the photograph Bate used for the mural, the story is as mysterious as Johnson himself.
There are only three authenticated photographs of Robert Johnson. The image Bate used is not one of those three.
Despite the controversy surrounding the photo, Bate said it captured a certain essence that he was looking for in the mural.
“The top half of the picture was almost faded away,” Bate said. “You couldn’t even see the hat. His suit coat was dark.”
Bate said he’ll often stay up late looking through dark, faded pictures in the Library of Congress archives.
As for future plans, Bate has a couple of proposals in the works. He plans to apply for another MakeWork Grant this year and participate in the Glass Street efforts. Additionally, he has plans for a much larger ArtsBuild project.