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Surfing Madonna Artist Makes Waves in Encinitas

Aired 6/13/11 on KPBS Midday Edition.

The mystery of who constructed the Surfing Madonna mosaic has been solved. Surfer and art lover, Mark Patterson considered his artwork of Lady Guadalupe as a gift to Encinitas, giving the message to "save the ocean." Many citizens in Encinitas think the surfing Madonna is a positive addition to the community, while others think it should be removed.

The mystery of who constructed the Surfing Madonna mosaic has been solved. Surfer and art lover, Mark Patterson considered his artwork of Lady Guadalupe as a gift to Encinitas, giving the message to "save the ocean." Many citizens in Encinitas think the surfing Madonna is a positive addition to the community, while others think it should be removed.

The Surfing Madonna in Encinitas
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Above: The Surfing Madonna in Encinitas

Supporters gathered on the streets on Saturday, hoping that their support could help keep the mural. Since the piece of art was put up without permission, city leaders want it to be taken down. Several businesses want to adopt the piece and some community members have offered to pay fees if Patterson is charged. We talk to artist Mark Patterson about the next steps in the Surfing Madonna controversy.

Guest

Mark Patterson, artist who created the Surfing Madonna mosaic in Encinitas.

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

This is KPBS Midday Edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. The artist who created the surfing madonna mosaic in Encinitas is talking about what he'd like to see it happen to his work of art. The glass tile mosaic is attached to a wall supporting a train overpass on Encinitas Boulevard has created headaches for city leaders but has gained a wide number of enthusiastic supporters. Artist Mark Patterson is here to talk about the sensation his art has created. Hi, Mark.

MARK PATTERSON: Hi Maureen, nice to meet you.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you for coming in, I appreciate it. Now the city of Encinitas was pretty angry at you last week.

MARK PATTERSON: They were.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Has the situation calmed down?

MARK PATTERSON: It seems to have calmed down I am very open to working with the city on what the city fathers would like to see happen. I've offered to remove the mosaic and take it elsewhere if necessary. I would like to see it stay where it is, but you know I cannot dictate that of course.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: People have probably seen this work either in person or on TV. They can take a look right now on our website at KPBS.org to see a picture of it but for those who haven't had the opportunity of seeing a picture of the surfing madonna can you give us a brief description of it?

MARK PATTERSON: I guess what I envisioned this mosaic it was a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe Day on a surfboard surfing a very large wave. The message that she was delivering from the wave was save the ocean and I think that that message in particular is the focus for me of what the mosaic was intended to represent.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I think it is so interesting that you chose mosaic. Tell us a little bit about that.

MARK PATTERSON: Yeah it is maybe I've got, the word mosaic has now entered the lexicon of a lot of people that probably didn't know the word existed before. It is an art form that I have always liked. I went to Italy to study it in 2010. That's where I created the face of the madonna for that particular mosaic. I had that in mind when I went to the school and I wanted to learn how to do that. It's not an easy process and when you create something you can only see where you wish you could have done things a little bit better so I do see that also, but the mosaic just seemed to be a natural form for me. And it was always, and never even was a question that it wouldn't be a mosaic that I would create for this particular message.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Mark, when you put this mosaic up on Good Friday which also was Earth Day this year what kind of reaction did you expect?

MARK PATTERSON: You know what was interesting was that when it was first put up I drove by a couple times just to see if it was still there and if it was if there was any reaction but I would see people walking right past it without glancing at it so I thought okay that's fine because I really wasn't looking for personal attention. I was just looking to see if people were reacting at all and so I kind of forgot about it and went about my business and then it started being noticed in the following week and then there was sort of a lot of conversation going on about it from that point on.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now you had to know somewhere that deciding to put your work up on public property was a no-no.

MARK PATTERSON: I was really rather ignorant about that aspect. I assumed that the pillar belonged to the railroad and I figured that the railroad wouldn't mind I thought it was the Santa Fe Railway that owned it. Look into it at all. To me it looks like the perfect frame for the mosaic and that's what called me to it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Do you agree with some of the cities concerns? They talked about the idea of public safety. I've seen TV footage where people are trying to get photographs of this mosaic and they are sort of stepping back off the curb into traffic predicting that is a legitimate concern in Encinitas has about the location of the surfing madonna?

MARK PATTERSON: Yes it's possible that the location could be in a better place, no question.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What surprises you about the reaction?

MARK PATTERSON: The amount of the reaction and I think one of the expectations especially as it relates to people stepping off the curb is I think once people get used to it I think the attention will die down and it just becomes part of the landscape and there will be a lot longer and a lot less, but the fear of it being removed I think it has generated a lot more traffic than would have happened otherwise.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with the artist who created the surfing madonna mosaic in Encinitas and we have a caller on the line pretty want to invite other listeners if they have a question for you. We have time for a few phone calls if you would like to: print our number is 1-888-895-5727. That's 1888895K PBS. Scott is calling from Kensington. Good afternoon, Scott. Thanks for calling.

NEW SPEAKER: Hey, how's it going?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Pretty good.

NEW SPEAKER: I was just curious because of what prompted you just because of all the coverage and about having to take it down is that why you came down I read that the only damage that would be done was 18 screw holes if they were to take it down or were you going to commission to try to get it to stay there too before I forget what it was.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Scott, let me break down the question. Why did you decide to come forward because you were going to be content to remain anonymous.

MARK PATTERSON: Yeah, I was hoping to remain anonymous but when the conservation team that the city hired was examining the mosaic I forgot that I'd written my name up on one of the backer boards up at the very top of the mosaic and when they were examining it they saw the name and that's why I came forward because basically I was outed.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And how did you get that up? People were talking about bolts and all sorts of things. How did you affix that mosaic there?

MARK PATTERSON: In the mosaic is there are eight panels, there's a half-inch piece of plywood, there's a 3/8 inch piece of backward which is a kind of material if you are going to put the tile in your shower kind of thing in a glass is attached to the backer board in each of those eight panels I epoxy-ed the back of the back of the panels and mounted them on the wall and screwed them on the four corners basically.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Do you think if you hadn't come forward and basically given some advice for the conservators would have hard time getting to work down?

MARK PATTERSON: Yeah I think this is is something I've already told the city I'd be very happy to help provide the locations of the screws and things like that if that's what they would prefer, but, yeah, it is something I can help with.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We have another caller on the line. John is calling from Carlsbad. Good morning, John and welcome to Midday.

NEW SPEAKER: Good morning. I would just like to say as far as the safety issue regarding the artwork with people wanting to take pictures and stuff like that, the Cardiff Kook which is the bronze statue of the surfer in Cardiff people slow down to look at that so I don't really think that is a big issue. But I would also like to say that I'd like to see that people take a vote on it instead of the Council people making the decision.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay, let me pose that to Mark. What do you think about that, Mark?

MARK PATTERSON: I've heard other people make that comment and it's not for me to decide.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: All right, where does it stand now with the Council? They were threatening you with legal action last week.

MARK PATTERSON: Yes it seems to have been tempered somewhat but we are still working with the city to come to a resolution.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: One of the things I think is a remarkable for instance yesterday there was a flash mob through the city of Encinitas, a group of people who got together just spontaneously singing and walking through downtown Encinitas to the location of the mosaic in support of the surfing madonna. Do think that there is actually a sort of a nascent desire among people to see more public art?

MARK PATTERSON: It seems like it. It's been very overwhelmingly inspiring to me to see the public support and I've been so very very grateful for because of it has been a hard thing to go through for these last four or five days.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How hard did it get? I mean what were your feelings before you came forward and when you did come forward and perhaps were going to be facing some kind of legal action?

MARK PATTERSON: Yeah. It was a challenge, but I felt like I needed to, especially once I was exposed, I just needed to tell my story. And make it clear that I wasn't trying to make an awkward situation for the city Council. I was really trying to provide a gift to the community of Encinitas of something beautiful that was delivering a very important message about our environment.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We are taking your phone calls at 1-888-895-5727 we have time for a few calls. Alphonso is calling from Spring Valley. Alphonso, hello and welcome to Midday.

NEW SPEAKER: Hello. Thank you. My question is why did you decide to use the Guadalupe virgin instead of any other symbol and what is her relationship to the ocean?

MARK PATTERSON: Alphonso, I've lived in a coastal community since 1983, the ocean is something that I love to be in and be part of. It's part of my environment. It is interesting you should ask about why the Virgin of Guadalupe. It's interesting. The process for me as an artist was simply that during the times that I would work with my sketchbook I often would just start drawing and different things come out. A lot of times they are just little cartoon characters or funny things like that other times they are serious subjects and the image of the surfing madonna first appeared in my sketchbook in 2005. So it was there for a long time. It's been a striking image to me. I think because she is such a radiant figure and is such a cultural icon for Southern California as well as for Mexico and other parts of the US. And for her to be delivering this message, this important message about saving the ocean it just seemed really natural to me.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: There was at least one comment I read someone was concerned about religious iconography on a public place and I wonder if I could get your reaction to that.

MARK PATTERSON: Well this is certainly not the only place that there is what you could call religious iconography. I believe there is a Virgin of Guadalupe on the bridge supports of Chicano Park in San Diego. So it is not the only place in town. Matter of fact I think there's quite a few places where she appears in public places besides mine.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It's interesting that one of our callers talk about the Cardiff kook, the statue of the surfer because initially agreed upon piece of public art was not to popular there were a lot of calls about it not really grabbing people's attention and it's only when people started dressing up on various occasions that it became a beloved symbol. But your very nonapproved piece of public art, your sort of one-man autonomous piece of public art seems to have been almost instantly accessible to people in sort of beloved by many people. Do you have any idea what this might mean to the idea of how we choose public art to display, you know, the committees and so forth that go into it?

MARK PATTERSON: I think so. I think that it is also simply, I think the people's love of mystery and the love of surprise in the love of beauty and hopefully the love of the ocean. That may be what created that popular reaction.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Where would you like to see the surfing madonna be or stay or end up?

MARK PATTERSON: You know I am open at this point to all possibilities and again and you know what works best for the city fathers and fathers and mothers and I want to be of assistance to the music is that I was offering needs to move them so be it, if it can stay where it is, that's great too.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: There've been a number of people offering places to display. Do you have a favorite among any of the offers that you've heard?

MARK PATTERSON: My enormous preference is have it stay in Encinitas.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: But not necessarily where it is?

MARK PATTERSON: Like I said I'm open to whatever solution will satisfy everybody.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What are you working on next, Mark? Are you going to tell us?

MARK PATTERSON: I told this joke to somebody that it's a boogie boarding Buddha but I'm totally joking. But I think I'm going to stay away from things for a while and take a breather.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How long did this take you to do?

MARK PATTERSON: Nine months.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: A well-deserved breather then.

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