Artist of Surfing Madonna offers to remove mosaic

Associated Press
EDS: CORRECTS SPELLING OF CINCINNATI - In this May 27, 2011 photo, Jules Itzkoff, of Cincinnati, Ohio, left, looks at an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe riding a surfbaord that hangs under a train bridge as Starr Culver, right, and Mary Martin, center, both of Leucadia, Calif., embrace in Encinitas, Calif. The unauthorized artwork is drawing a mass following, and even city officials who say she must go say they too have been taken by her. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
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SAN DIEGO (AP) — The mysterious artist of the Surfing Madonna has stepped forward to help the California beach city of Encinitas remove his illegal mosaic from public property.

Encinitas Assistant City Manager Richard Phillips said Thursday the city attorney was in talks with the attorney for Mark Patterson about the penalty for putting up the unauthorized piece that the city says is graffiti under the law.

The colorful mosaic depicts the Virgin of Guadalupe surfing a wave and the words "Save the Ocean." It was put up shortly before Easter and has drawn a following with scores coming to see it in Encinitas, a picturesque coastal community 25 miles north of San Diego.

City officials say the artwork is graffiti under the law and must go. They hired an art conservation agency to find a way to take it down without damaging it.

Patterson contacted city officials through his lawyer late Wednesday after the Los Angeles-based Sculpture Conservation Studio ran tests and determined it would be nearly impossible to remove because the mosaic had been bolted into a support structure under a train bridge.

In a letter to the city, Patterson's attorney, Anton Gerschler, said Patterson put up the piece to send a message about saving the ocean and he intended it to be a gift to the community.

Gerschler pointed out that Sculpture Conservation Studio experts say the piece is beautiful and in the perfect spot. Gerschler suggested the artwork could be covered until it could be officially made public art.

"It spoke to me as a perfect frame," Patterson said of the bridge in an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune. "It was a train overpass, so sort of an industrial spot that really no one cared about at all, and to put something incredibly beautiful there, for me, seemed — perfect."

Patterson envisioned the mosaic in 2005, when he was working full time in the software industry.

"I ignored it," he told the Union-Tribune. "Then it pops up again very strongly in 2009, and I drew a fairly complete rendition of the Surfing Madonna, with the save the ocean. And the save the ocean was always the base of the concept that was being visualized in my head."

Deputy Mayor Jerome Stocks said there is no question it must go since making an exception to the law would set a dangerous precedent. But he is concerned that it won't be that easy to remove it.

He said the mosaic was mounted onto a support structure that was retrofitted for earthquakes.

"We may have to have an engineer look at that to determine if it has caused damage to the seismic integrity of the bridge support," he said. "There are still a lot of questions about this and we don't know the answers yet."

In his letter, Gerschler said if removed properly, only 18 small screw holes in the wall would be left behind and they could be easily filled. He said the removal would cause no substantial or permanent damage. Gerschler did not immediately return calls seeking comment from him or Patterson on Thursday.

Numerous people have offered to buy the mosaic and several local businesses would like to display it. City officials say even though it is graffiti, they want the public to be able to continue to view it because of its popularity.

Several nonprofit groups have been raising funds to pay for the costs of moving it. City officials say in other cases involving graffiti, the artists have had to pay for the removal.

That may not be a problem for Patterson, joked Mayor James Bond.

"If the artists needed some notoriety, he's got it," he said. "He should be able to make another one and sell it for quite a bit now."

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