Forget the monoliths — there’s a new monument perplexing America. An artist was commissioned by a local business owner to create a mural of Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster on the side of his building. There was only one problem: This patron of the arts didn’t actually own the building, and he’s all but disappeared.
Illinois-based artist Joshua Hawkins recently shared on Facebook the unusual story of how he’d come to paint the short-lived Cookie Monster mural on NE Adams Street in Peoria, Illinois (it has since been removed). In an interview with Gizmodo, Hawkins said that about a year ago, he’d met a guy at an art show who called himself “Nate” (the email address he provided to Hawkins included the name Nate Comte, which happens to be the name of the man who owns the building). Then about two weeks ago, around Thanksgiving, “Nate” reached out to Hawkins and asked him to paint a mural on his building.
It wasn’t his usual style, but Hawkins thought it’d be a fun project. Besides, he liked the idea of having more public art in Peoria, a growing city of over 100,000 people about two and a half hours southwest of Chicago. “We’ve got a few murals in Peoria…but I didn’t mind painting it because, you know, I like weird stuff and I wouldn’t mind Peoria having a bit more of a weird art scene,” Hawkins told Gizmodo.
The design, which “Nate” told Hawkins was created by his own graphic artist, depicted Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster as a Bolshevist icon. It played on classic art from the Russian Revolution, saying “Peace, Land, Cookies” (which looks to be a play on the 1917 October Revolution battle cry “Peace, Land, Bread”). The artist, and three helpers who he’d hired, spent a long weekend painting it, as “Nate” wanted it done quickly. It was one of the stranger things Hawkins had been asked to create but said he was paid above his normal rate for the work, in cash, and all the paint was provided to make it happen (though he wouldn’t share how much he was compensated).
This is when things got strange. Hawkins said he tried to get in touch with “Nate” after he’d gotten paid for the work, but there was no response. He said the man wouldn’t answer his phone (he’d given Hawkins a Google Voice number) and wasn’t responding to any of his voicemails or emails. It was like he had disappeared. Then, Hawkins got a surprising phone call — from the actual Nate Comte. And he was not happy.
“He said, ‘What the hell did you paint on my building here?’ So I told him, you know, I was hired to paint it. I thought it was just a prank. I thought that this guy calling me was just messing with me or something. Then I kind of realised, no, he’s threatening to press charges with cops and stuff,” he said. “I was nervous as shit, the guy threatened to call the cops on me!”
It turns out that the real Comte had nothing to do with the Cookie Monster mural that had shown up on the building for his business, Peoria Pedicab, and he was threatening to sue. Hawkins, who had no way of getting ahold of the guy who’d paid him to make the mural in the first place, apologised and offered to paint over it — only to have the business owner hang up on him and paint over it himself (it’s now a giant white rectangle on his wall). Gizmodo reached out to Comte, who declined to comment. However, in an interview with the Peoria Journal Star, Comte called the artwork “graffiti” and said he’s received backlash for removing it.
“Now I’m the evil Grinch and getting hate mail,” Comte told the newspaper, who added that he’s not planning on pressing vandalism charges against Hawkins.
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As of now, this mysterious “Nate Comte” who actually wasn’t Nate Comte is an enigma (we reached out to him using the contact information he provided to Hawkins, but we never got a reply). Hawkins thinks that it might be someone who knows the property owner and was trying to prank them, but he’s still baffled as to why someone would spend a year planning a joke and pay that much money to see it through — especially seeing as how the mural ended up getting removed about a week after it was put up in the first place.
For the time being, the artist has no plans to recreate this Cookie Monster mural that has mystified a nation. In truth, he’s still trying to make sense of what the hell happened, and how he feels about it. “The humour will probably grow on me eventually, but right now it’s still stressful,” he said.
Thanks to the internet, there aren’t many mysteries left — even the monoliths are starting to lose their lustre. But we will always have the memory of the Russian Cookie Monster, who came and went in a blaze of rainbow-powered glory. In the city of Peoria, Illinois, if only for a brief period of time, there lived an artistic tribute to Peace, Land…and Cookies.