'Surfing Madonna' Mystery Solved (VIDEO)

06/09/2011 04:46 pm ET | Updated Nov 15, 2011
  • David Moye Pop culture journalist, HuffPost Weird News

The mystery of who created and installed a mosaic painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe surfing has been solved.

The artist has stepped forward to reveal himself and his intention behind the art work in hopes of keeping the "Surfing Madonna" in place under a train bridge near Encinitas, Calif. -- or at least keeping it one piece.

Former Microsoft employee Mark Patterson tells Fox 5 San Diego that the painting has been in his mind's eye since 2005 and he spent the better part of 2010 working on it for a very specific purpose.

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Sacred Sightings?

"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.

For that reason, the painting made its official debut on April 22, which was Earth Day and Good Friday, and was installed in its current location by a group of artists disguised as construction workers.

Since then, the piece has attracted both lookie-loos for its beauty, and controversy for its location and religious iconography.

Art experts like Assistant Conservator Andrew Smith of the Los Angeles-based Sculpture Conservation Studio believe the city of Encinitas should not only keep the artwork, but adopt a plan to protect it. Under the law, however, the "Surfing Madonna" is technically considered graffiti and posting a picture with a religious figure like the Virgin of Guadalupe could violate the Constitutional Amendment separating church and state.

Patterson says he didn't intend his artwork to be seen as promoting religion as much as using a regional icon to make a point about saving the planet.

"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, but is gratified by the public response to the painting, such as the local businesses who are raising money to try and save it.

Although Smith believes the Madonna will be pretty much impossible to remove because it is attached with a combination of epoxy glue and a metal bolting system, Patterson's lawyer, Anton Grescher, sent a letter to Encinitas city officials explaining that taking it down "would leave only 18 small screw holes in the wall, all easily filled and causing no substantial or permanent damage."

Patterson said the vision for the piece came to him in 2005, but, by 2010, was so strong that he could no longer resist. At that point, he quit his job with Microsoft, and enrolled in a mosaic art school in Italy.

Her face was created there, 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.

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