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Mosaic artist cast in spotlight

ENCINITAS — The only thing Mark Patterson ever wanted in return for his “gift” of the “Surfing Madonna” mosaic was to remain completely anonymous. But months after the mosaic was secretly installed, controversy over how city officials would remove the unsanctioned work and fear of being discovered after a thorough examination of the piece, left Patterson with only one thing to do — step into the spotlight.
Patterson, through his attorney Anton C. Gerschler, contacted City Council members late Wednesday night to accept full responsibility for the art piece, which was installed underneath a train bridge on Encinitas Boulevard.
Gerschler has been in contact with city officials both by phone and e-mail, working on a resolution and insisting that the artwork cannot be classified as graffiti based on the Municipal Code 9.60 definition put forth by the city.
According to the code, “The City Council of Encinitas specifically finds that graffiti on public or private property is a blighting factor which not only depreciates the value of the property…but also depreciates the value of adjacent and surrounding properties.”
Gerschler defends that the “Surfing Madonna” doesn’t depreciate the value of the property where it has been installed.
Assistant City Manager Richard Phillips didn’t know if charges would be brought upon Patterson, adding that that’s between the City Attorney Glenn Sabine and Gerschler. However, the artwork is a violation of the city’s municipal code, he said.
“There’s a rumor that the city is taking it down this weekend — no, that is not the case,” Phillips said. “We are only waiting on two issues, the first one…is the legal stuff; the second one: the city is awaiting the report from the consultant they retained.”
Andrea Morse, principal conservator of the Los Angeles-based Sculpture Conservation Studio, Inc. was brought in by the city to examine how the piece could be taken down without damaging or destroying it. While studying an upper-corner of the piece, she noticed the words “Ark Patterson.”
Patterson did sign the artwork, but said that it wasn’t on purpose.
Discussions between both attorneys have continued throughout the day Thursday, with two options being considered for the artwork, including one option presented by Morse, which is to go through city channels and hide the artwork until all applications are filed — essentially going through the legal process backwards. This has been endorsed by Greschel and Patterson. The second option is to remove the work. Patterson has offered to help remove the artwork, which is held to the wall with 24 2 ½ inch screws.
In 2005, Patterson sketched a drawing of the Madonna on a surfboard in one of his sketchbooks. It was something that just came out, he explained, adding how in art things happen — ideas just show up. The early sketch looked different than the mosaic does now, but it did contain the same “Save The Ocean” theme.
He had all but forgotten about the sketch until four years later, when he drew another, more serious version of the Madonna on a surfboard. Again, he ignored the drawing but the idea of it remained in his mind.
Then, in September 2010, Patterson, a former software technician, left his job to study mosaics in Italy. He began work, creating the mosaic head of the Madonna, while in class. He wouldn’t say what school it was he attended, but only that he had received “vociferous instruction” from his teacher, who would, while looking at the piece during its creation, only give a “hmph,” Patterson said.
He brought the finished mosaic piece home and commenced work on the design of the full “Surfing Madonna” mosaic. Getting the dimensions just right was difficult, Patterson said.
He was helped by friend Bob Nichols. Nichols provided instruction on how the wave should look, stemming from his years of surfing experience and being in the water. He and Patterson put the Surfing Madonna up April 22. Between the two of them, it wasn’t hard to keep the project a secret, Nichols said.
All of the glass used in the mosaic was purchased in one trip at Alpine Stained Glass.
Patterson has since been shocked by all of the attention — both national and international — the piece has received. He doesn’t plan on doing any more mosaics, he said, opting to take a breather once all of the issues with the “Surfing Madonna” have been resolved.
Since coming forward, Patterson has been inundated with support from both community members and businesses — support he is grateful for, he said.
He insists that the project was done out of love and hopes that he and the city can resolve the matter so that it works out for everybody.


GCV June 23, 2011 at 3:21 pm

As an avid photographer, I take delight in the surprises I find around every corner when I travel to Europe. I am not religious, not even in the slightest degree, but I am not offended by the religious symbols on much of this art. I am sure that the Europeans appreaciate the money I bring to Europe when I travel there to find subjects to photograph.

I have yet found a reason to photograph a gray wall.

My Perspective June 13, 2011 at 4:51 pm

With regard to Ms. Varela’s comment,

As a person who likes this piece of art, I am sorry that image is offensive to you. Although I do not know the artist, I believe that those of us, who like this mosaic, wish you and your faith no disrespect, nor do we wish any disrespect to people of other religions.

Also, I was interested to learn about some of the symbols that you mentioned that are shown in the mosaic, and I think that this may be an opportunity for everyone to gain greater appreciation for the diversity of interpretations of various images and the symbols that you mention in your post.

I think that your discussion is an interesting one since it has been going on in the Catholic faith for many years. I am reminded of the response to Caravaggio’s painting from 1606, "Death of a Virgin," which was much more controversial than this piece. Thank you for making me and other people in Encinitas aware of your point of view and for taking the time to discuss a different interpretation of these symbols and what they mean to you.

If you would also like an apology from one who still likes the piece, I humbly and respectfully offer mine.

Socorro Varela June 13, 2011 at 9:41 am

I happened to catch a report you aired on KCAL9 recently on the graffiti "ART" depicting a surfing Virgin Mary attired in the Aztec image we venerate as "La Virgen de Guadalupe". You liberals need to understand just how much in poor taste and offensive both the image and your liberal spin on it is to a catholic like myself. Your ignorance showed clearly in the manner you reported this insult. First of all Mary in this image, is dressed in the attire of Aztec royalty and she is clearly pregnant with my Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. With this image God chose to bring His beloved SON to the new world. If you look at any image of the Virgen de Guadalupe, you will clearly see that a black ribbon (a cinta) is tied around her abdomen. This is a clear indication of pregnancy. The Spaniards dubbed it as being "EN CINTA" or pregnant. It is offensive that you would even consider airing this type of levity with the Blessed Mother. How dare you? Why not put on the air a painting of a Jewish holocaust victim’s emaciated body surfing? Or how about a surfing Mohammed? Why is my Catholic faith fare game for this so called "art" making light of my beliefs but you would not dare make levity with what is sacred to the Jews or the Muslims? Shame on you. While my catholic faith was losing countless millions of members in Europe due to the misleading heresies of Henry VIII, Martin Luther and John Calvin, my Catholic Faith was gaining millions of new converts in the New World through the intercession of Mary under the title and Image you and that ignorant "artist" profaned. You owe Catholics an apology.

Socorro Varela
Los Angeles, CA.

Paul Moeller June 12, 2011 at 5:25 pm

Isn’t there a an arts commission that makes decisions about funding and placement of public art? What if the city turned this over to them, as if it was a ‘proposal’? If they agree that it is worthy of remaining on public property… then officially ‘sanction’ it, and let it stay. I absolutely love this artwork, and think that the artist, Mark Patterson, has done a service to the public, not only by giving us this amazing work of art, but also by sparking a lively, insightful and welcome discussion about public art. Additionally, I believe that Mr. Patterson should be required to pay a not-insignificent fine – as a penalty for his illegal actions, and to caution other aspiring guerilla artists (especially those without Mr. Patterson’s talent and financial resources) from attempting something similar. I’m sure that ultimately, the fine would be underwritten by admirers of this work … yet this way the city leaders who are concerned about enabling copycat artistic endeavors can rightfully say that they’ve addressed two sides of this issue, and crafted a laudable solution.

The Whale June 12, 2011 at 3:56 pm

This is Public Art, created by a Public Artist and installed on Public Property. Only the city council has no connection here. Now if people in california would get that their state has been turned into a leftist police state, with government control of everything, then the Artist will have done his job….

Mike of Encinitas June 11, 2011 at 10:17 am

It would be just like knuckleheads named Stocks and Bonds to prosecute an artist. This would give Encinitas some very adverse publicity completely contrary to the favorable notoriety that the "Surfing Madonna" has brought to the city.
If this is the type of mentality that currently governs Encinitas, then it is time for a change to some people who really embody the spirit of the people of Encinitas and Stocks and Bonds can move to a more accountant oriented community like Carlsbad where the only public art is "Bank lobby Art".

ProtectCommunityChar June 11, 2011 at 10:11 am

This Madonna has become an iconic image to many of us who live in Encinitas. It has individual meaning to every person.

For those who do not have a religion, or who have a different religion like I do, I am here to plead for tolerance, if you, like some of the bloggers, find the religious subject matter or the Guadalupe image distateful.

From the artist’s vision, this is about saving the ocean more than anything else. Why can’t we just let people enjoy this for what it is, and demonstrate that Encinitas is filled with people who are respectful of diverse views? We have the Self Realization Fellowship on 101, which to some who do not know about the faith or know the people who are members of the group, may have a lot of misperceptions about who they are and what they stand for.

What it means to me is that there are still some who are opposed to City Hall’s vision of converting Encinitas from "The Flower Capital of the World," into a maze of walled complexes like developers have been attempting to do for some time. Let’s cherish the artistic expressions and community love of nature that draws people to Encinitas in the first place!

JudithJuditha June 11, 2011 at 8:05 am

This is an amazing piece of art work! The town is so fortunate to have it. Thank you Mark. The only one who would want it down is the opposite of goodness! We are waiting breathlessly for prints and posters and classy t shirts to be made so we can buy them! We are in Florida! Yes, this is certainly going global! She is that beautiful and miraculous!

3rd gen Encinitas June 10, 2011 at 7:37 pm

Graffiti? How in the heck could you say the douche? It is amazing to look at (and I am not religious) either. The Kook is the real eye sore. Oh must me one of those who only wears black and hates all artwork

Bill Cavanaugh June 10, 2011 at 5:34 pm

Great work of art……City should pay Mark Patterson for making Encinitas an internationaly know city as this Surfing Madonna story has gone world wide. But I guess some people would rather look at an ugly blank concrete wall.

Realist 2011 June 10, 2011 at 12:56 pm

It’s graffiti. Take it down. Charge Mark for the consultant’s fee, and the cost to take it down.

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