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Artist working on follow up to Surfing Madonna mosaic

ENCINITAS — Soon, a spot in North County will be graced with a Surfing Madonna companion piece. Exactly where is anyone’s guess.

Mark Patterson, the artist behind the renowned mosaic, has been working on a follow-up for the past three months in a Leucadia garage. While a sequel of sorts, religious figures won’t be in the piece — or at least that’s the plan since it’s a work-in-progress.

Patterson hasn’t revealed the artwork yet. Even the title is under wraps.

But what’s certain is that his latest mosaic depicts an underwater scene, which aims to advance a message inscribed on the Surfing Madonna: “Save the Ocean.”

“The perspective is that you’re in the water looking at ocean life,” Patterson said. “And the idea being that you’re part of the ocean and everything that’s in it.

“After a while, people forget,” Patterson said of the Surfing Madonna. “It’s like the wallet in your hip pocket you don’t realize is there. And I want to keep the momentum going.”

A corner of Mark Patterson’s next mosaic.
A corner of Mark Patterson’s next mosaic.

On Tuesday morning, Patterson lifted up a small section of blue tarp enveloping the 10 foot-by-10-foot work, revealing a patch of kelp in one corner of the piece.

That cover will fall to the ground when the mosaic makes its debut at the next Surfing Madonna 5-10K, tentatively slated for Oct. 25.

Not long after, the piece will be installed somewhere along Coast Highway 101.

Four locations are being considered, two in Encinitas and two elsewhere in North County. Beyond those details, Patterson remained tight-lipped about the location, only saying eyeballs are a priority.

“It should be as visible as possible, so that people who are driving or walking by can be reminded the oceans are in trouble,” Patterson said.

It’s unlikely the piece will land Patterson in hot water like the Surfing Madonna did.

This time, Patterson noted the new piece would get the OK from the property owner beforehand, and two cities have even courted the mosaic.

Shortly after the Surfing Madonna was installed under a rail overpass on Coast Highway 101 in Encinitas several years ago, city officials said Patterson didn’t go through the proper channels. They labeled it graffiti, ordering its removal.

That sparked a back-and-forth debate over where the piece should hang.

Ultimately, on the suggestion of the owner of Leucadia Pizzeria, Patterson and friends affixed it to the restaurant’s wall last year, across the street from its original home.

Patterson said the image of the underwater scene has been burned in his brain for a while. It’s not the first time that’s happened.

The Surfing Madonna first popped up in his doodling notebook in 2005, and then again in 2008 and 2009.

In early 2010, a friend recommended he enroll in a beginner mosaics class while on vacation in Italy. That summer, he found himself putting together mosaics of flowers with others.

Yet Patterson yearned to create the reoccurring image stuck in his head, and so he let the teacher know of the aspiration.

“She probably thought, ‘Oh these tourists — what are they thinking?’” Patterson said with a laugh. “‘You’ve never done mosaics before, and you want to make the face of the Madonna.’”

Once he returned home, he quit his job at Microsoft and dedicated the next nine months to constructing the mosaic.

With experience under his belt, he noted the new mosaic seems to be coming along easier. Still, his hands are often bloody after hours of meticulously cutting glass.

Inspiration, he said, comes in fits and starts — and sometimes it hits him at 4 a.m.

“You have to work when you’re inspired,” Patterson said. “Every time I’ve forced something, I’ve had to tear it out.

“If you feel that inspiration, then it flows, everything stops and you don’t pay attention to time,” he added.

North County won’t be the only place with “Save the Ocean” artwork; the goal is to spread the message up north in the not-too-distant future.

Mark Patterson and Bob Nichols install the Surfing Madonna to a Leucadia Pizzeria wall last year.
Mark Patterson and Bob Nichols install the Surfing Madonna to a Leucadia Pizzeria wall last year.

Across the state, coastal artists will interpret the Surfing Madonna as they see fit with mosaics or paintings to draw attention to problems like ocean acidification and trash in the sea.

Funding for “thoughtful pieces” will come from the nonprofit Surfing Madonna Oceans Project, Patterson said.

Patterson and friends started the nonprofit after they realized the potential for giving back.

Last year, the nonprofit’s inaugural 5-10K, along with other projects, raised $50,000, most of which went to scholarships for children and local environmental causes.

“We want a strong foothold in North County,” said Bob Nichols, the operations director of the nonprofit. “This is our home; we want two here. And then, we’d like pieces to go in Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz or maybe in Monterrey.”

This year, the Surfing Madonna Oceans Project hopes to raise $100,000 for the community with an expanded 5-10K. The nonprofit is also selling personalized bricks that will be placed under the Surfing Madonna at

Patterson said the “Save the Ocean” campaign would continue full steam until the ocean is no longer treated as a garbage dump.

“We’re a long way from finishing this story,” Patterson said. “Until the oceans are healthy, there is no end to this.”

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1 comment

mosaisc lover May 15, 2014 at 5:02 am

Kind sir, Where in Italy did you take the mosaics class?
Would you recommend it?
Fellow mosaics amateur

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