An unassuming Illinois city has become the site of a captivating art mystery. And this one has nothing to do with monoliths.
At the center of the drama is the question of who paid local artist Joshua Hawkins to paint a Soviet art-style mural depicting Cookie Monster on the side of a building while posing as the building’s owner, a man named Nate Comte.
Since the actual (and enraged) Nate Comte discovered the prank and whitewashed the mural, the wall where it stood has become a site of pilgrimage. It has been graffitied with the message “f*ck real Nate” (that’s Comte); people have left flowers, stuffed animals, and a portrait of Cookie Monster inscribed with the words “C is for cover-up” and “#fakenateforever.”
While Fake Nate’s identity remains unknown, Artnet News can reveal that the real Comte plans to commission a new mural at the site, 1301 NE Adams Street—though it may not include the blue Sesame Street character.
“Before the newest graffiti, I had already decided to demonstrate my goodwill to the art community,” Comte told Artnet News via text in reference to the “f*ck real Nate” message. “I believe that is the wisest thing I can do right now.”
He has created the Facebook page Graffiti Replacement Mural for artists to propose a new artwork. “I will choose a more appropriate image for Peoria from those proposals,” Comte said, “and I will hire a local artist to paint it.”
The property owner also seems interested in mending fences with Hawkins, at whom he lobbed a couple of F-bombs of his own in their initial conversation, shortly after Comte encountered the unauthorized, 30-foot-wide mural of Cookie Monster after Thanksgiving.
“I know I overreacted with the artist initially and should have used different language than I did,” Comte said.
Despite the landlord’s seemingly good intentions, fans of the original mural may not give him an easy pass. On the Facebook page announcing the new commission, Andrew Ehnle, of nearby Princeville, asked, “Does fake Nate get any input?”
Hawkins, for his part, is taking it all in stride. He has received messages from all over the country requesting artworks based on the mural.
He’s also invited friends to help him solve the mystery. In a city of only a little over 100,000, it might not be that hard to track the guy down. (If you’re interested, Fake Nate is about six feet tall, black hair, average build.)
“Someone suggested doing a drawing of the guy,” Hawkins said, “but I’m not a police sketch artist.” He’s considering commissioning one, though, to draw Fake Nate based on his description.
As for what might be more appropriate imagery for Peoria, Hawkins pointed out that it’s the hometown of comedian Richard Pryor and heavy metal band Mudvayne, as well as Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys. It was known as “the whiskey capital of the world” in the early 20th century owing to the high number of distilleries. Less prestigious, Charles Manson was once arrested there, and Al Capone had some hideouts in the area.
After hearing from a local reporter about the “f*ck real Nate” graffiti, Hawkins went down to 1301 NE Adams for the first time since the mural had been whitewashed. He was surprised to encounter the many tributes to the fallen Muppet.
“I had no idea,” Hawkins said. “As I was leaving, someone put down a 40-ounce bottle of beer. Something to wash the cookies down with.”
If Cookie Monster doesn’t rise again in the same spot, he may be resurrected elsewhere. Someone invited Hawkins to paint the same mural on his building across town.
Hawkins is game—but he’ll be more careful this time.
“I’m gonna have to make sure he actually owns the property.”