Saturday, June 11, 2011

Green Madonna

You've probably heard about the image of the Virgin of Guadelupe which appeared in Encinitas this last Good Friday - on a surfboard! Because everybody loves a good story about surfers or apparitions, it went viral. But the Encinitas city council was not amused. Unwilling to establish a precedent and concerned about the public display of a religious symbol (Mount Soledad's just a few towns south), they declared it graffiti and announced it had to come down. In response to uproar from friends of the "Surfing Madonna," they agreed to have it taken it down and displayed in a nearby restaurant, but a panel of artists found the glass mosaic too well affixed to be removed without major damage.

In the last days, the artist - a man named Mark Patterson - has come forward, and offered his help in removing it. He's also explained that it was intended as a gift to a town he's lived in for most of three decades, and a call to protect the oceans. He's neither an artist nor Catholic. It seemed a way appropriate to this locality to call attention to the need to save the seas, he said, and just an interesting conjunction that Good Friday coincided this year with Earth Day. But still: it is the Virgen de Guadelupe (except for the green cape), isn't it? His explanation is a bit puzzling. He told the San Diego Union-Tribune that it came to me as a very powerful image in 2005.

“I ignored it,” he said. “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.”

Self-effacing even now, Patterson insists there's really nothing going on here. "I'm just a random guy ... that had a vision and hoped it would be a blessing to the community." Yet whatever the vision was, it led a software guy to quit a well-paying job, study mosaic-making in Italy for a month, spend much of a year working on it, then it display it anonymously with no intention of revealing his relationship to it. It took Patterson nine months to build the mosaic. Some days he would work 15 minutes, and others into the wee hours of the morning. He said he would only work when he was inspired. It would come out poorly otherwise.

What strikes me (half-seriously) is a certain strangeness in the way Patterson describes it, which seems somehow not simply the usual language for artistic inspiration. It's not his idea but came to me as a powerful image, a vision, something visualized in my head complete from the start. It came from out of the blue and pestered him until he gave in to it. It led him to change his life completely, giving himself selflessly to this blessing. Maybe it's a midlife crisis - he's 58 - but with Nuestra Señora del Mar and the Virgen an interesting conjunction indeed.

When the Virgen called to him, Juan Diego was 57.

[Update: It was taken down June 21st.]

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