'Surfing Madonna' mosaic artist speaks out

ENCINITAS, Calif. -- The man behind the Encinitas "Surfing Madonna" mosaic that mysteriously appeared on the wall of a train underpass on Good Friday came forward Wednesday.

It was no coincidence that the Virgin of Guadalupe delivered the message to "Save The Ocean" on April 22, which was Earth Day and Good Friday. That was part of the vision of Madonna artist Mark Patterson.

"The life of our planet is at stake really, and this vision that I had of the Surfing Madonna delivering that message of 'Save the Ocean' was very, very strong, and that was what impelled me to create the mosaic to begin with," Patterson said.

Fox 5 News tracked down Patterson after seeing his name through the stained glass edge of the mosaic art piece on Tuesday. In an exclusive interview, he explained to Fox 5 how the art came to be.

Patterson said he was moved by the strong sense he was supposed to create a mosaic piece with the Madonna spreading the message to save the ocean.  Even its location, the base of a train bridge in Encinitas, was out of his control.

The vision first came to Patterson in 2005, but by 2010 it was so strong he said he could no longer resist. Patterson quit his job with Microsoft, applied to and then enrolled in a mosaic art school in Italy and began the Madonna.

Her face was created in Italy, while the remainder was completed in Encinitas over a span of nine months.

"I found that when I forced the work, the work was badly done. And when I worked from inspiration, the work seemed to me to look good, to look correct, to flow, radiate and say what it needed to say," Patterson said.

Patterson, who has lived in Encinitas for three decades, is a gentle, unassuming man who said he did not anticipate the reaction from the City of Encinitas, which insists the piece must come down. The city has said that the artwork is legally graffiti because the artist did not get permission to install it on public property. City officials have also expressed concern because of the work's religious imagery. But Patterson said he didn't use the Madonna because of its religious significance. He said it is a regional icon throughout Mexico and the southwestern U.S.

"It doesn't matter whether you're Catholic -- I'm certainly not Catholic." Patterson said. "To me it's an important iconic figure for anybody. And it's a powerful figure, and it's a radiant figure, and it's delivering this important message, and that's what I really was hoping would be understood."

Patterson said he's disappointed by the city's rejection of a gift. The art was installed in a couple hours, and if it must come down, Patterson said he can help the city to remove it without damaging the art or the bridge.

He would prefer that his gift stay put, and said he is moved by the positive emotions people have expressed.

Patterson is worried the city will have him arrested for the guerrilla artwork and has hired an attorney.