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.


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