The Encinitas 'Surfing Madonna' artist died, but the legacy of his art lives on
The artist of the controversial Encinitas "Surfing Madonna" mosaic has died at the age of 70.
Mark Patterson died on Sept. 20 due to Alzheimer’s and dementia.
"We're mourning the loss of Mark Patterson," said Mike Redman, the vice president of the Surfing Madonna Oceans Project. "He did so much for the world and for the community ... he was a noted artist, but this was his one famous piece. His first incredible piece, he knocked it out of the park."
In plain daylight and wearing bright construction vests, Patterson and his friend Bob Nichols set out to install what would become a controversial art piece in Encinitas on April 22, 2011.
The date coincidentally and unintentionally landed on Good Friday and Earth Day.
They told an inquiring firefighter they were taking measurements underneath the Encinitas rail bridge on the South Coast Highway 101.
But in reality, they were installing colorful tile mosaics that would form the "Surfing Madonna," portraying the Virgin of Guadalupe on a surfboard riding a large wave with the words “Save the Ocean” spelled out.
Controversy over the art piece grew.
It was the imagery, the placement and the permission the anonymous artist failed to seek.
Patterson was forced to reveal his identity.
“The message that she was delivering from that wave was ‘save the ocean.’ That message in particular is the focus for me of what the mosaic was intended to represent," he told KPBS in an interview from 2011.
He said assumed the railroad owned the pillar and the art piece wouldn't pose a problem. "To me it looked like the perfect frame for the mosaic. And that's what really called me to it," he said.
Alas, the "Surfing Madonna" had to be removed from the rail bridge, and it took a couple more moves until it found its final destination.
It is now on display on the back wall of Leucadia Pizzeria facing Encinitas Boulevard.
"The Surfing Madonna Oceans Project has gone on to do all kinds of things for the community. They've put on the world's biggest beach run, the Encinitas half marathon, and of course our special needs surf camps throughout the summer. These camps get kids in the water who normally wouldn't get there," Redman said.
The nonprofit organization was created following the fame of the "Surfing Madonna" mosaic. A legacy born out of a spontaneous gift of art.
The organization also holds art shows that support clean oceans and surfing.
"It just blossomed. As we may know, it got worldwide attention. I don't think he had any idea what was gunna happen," Redman said.
Despite Patterson’s death, Redman says the legacy of the "Surfing Madonna" will live on and he invites the community to its forever home.
"Please check out the Madonna. Bring books. We need books for the little free library and please come check out the Madonna," Redman said.
A celebration of Mark Patterson’s life will be held at from 2 to 5 p.m., Sunday at Leucadia Pizzeria.