‘Surfing Madonna’ graffiti gets Calif. beach city talking
The mosaic that's become known as the ‘Surfing Madonna.’ Credit: Ruby White (CC BY-SA 2.0)
The mosaic that's become known as the ‘Surfing Madonna.’ Credit: Ruby White (CC BY-SA 2.0)

.- Corrected June 9, 2011 at 8:57 MDT. Removes description of St. Juan Diego being on the surfboard.

A mosaic of the Virgin Mary riding a surfboard in Encinitas, Calif. has won admiration from many residents and prompted some concerns about whether the display is irreverent.

But city officials may have the last word: they say the “Surfing Madonna” was installed illegally and has to be taken down.

The artwork shows the Virgin of Guadalupe riding a cresting blue wave. Her hands are clasped in prayer and her green robe billows from the wind. 

One side of the mosaic reads: “Save the Ocean.”

The 10-by-10-foot rock and glass mosaic was affixed to a wall under a train bridge in April by unidentified artists disguised as construction workers.

Thousands of people have come to see the work. Some brought flowers and lit votive candles. Supporters have created Twitter and Facebook accounts to support the work, calling her the “Surfing Madonna.”

The work is technically graffiti that should be removed, according to the city law.

Encinitas Mayor James Bond said the mosaic’s use of religious imagery has drawn some complaints in the southern California beach town.

Some say the artwork blurs the line between church and state while others consider it sacrilegious to depict Mexico’s patron saint surfing.

“We can't just go around saying, `Well, when someone slaps up something nice, we like it and it can stay.' Or, ‘Oh, we don't like it, so we've got to take it down,'” Bond told the Associated Press. “We can't do that with art because people always love and hate the same piece of art. So it's a slippery slope.”

He expects moving the mosaic will be costly but local businesses are raising funds to cover the city’s expenses and several people have offered to buy the work.

Art consultant Andrew Smith said removing the mosaic without destroying it will not be easy and might not even be possible.

Smith is part of the team evaluating the work, which the city hired at a cost of just under $2,000, the local newspaper The North County Times reports.

The mosaic appears to have been extensively bolted or screwed into place and not simply affixed with a high-strength glue, as initially suspected.

Workers reported that they saw a name under the mosaic’s colorful glass but they didn’t know if it belonged to the artist.

Those who created and installed the mosaic have not come forward.

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