By Jim Tortolano
If you travel around Garden Grove, you’ll find the artistic fruits of another traveler: mosaic artist Robin Marcario.
A resident of the Big Strawberry since 1964 and a product of local schools, Robin has decorated cinder block walls, buildings, seating and more with colorful, three-dimensional works of art that may well outlast many of us.
“In my twenties, I traveled around the world by myself for a year and a half,” says Robin, now 58. “I worked in the United Kingdom and Australia and whilst I was in Italy I saw some amazing Roman mosaics and that planted the seed.”
She returned to the United States, married and raised two children. When they were on their own she returned to college – Cal State Long Beach – and finished her degree at the age of 40.
During a political campaign in 2008, “I did a lot of walking and talking to people, and they didn’t like graffiti. Gee, I thought, I’ve seen how in other cities they’ve used tile work to unify and beautify the city.”
She plunged into research on mosaics and after doing a couple of bus benches she was discouraged from making her art in public spaces, she said. “But then we had a change in [city] leadership that saw it was beneficial and the public liked it.” One of her earliest works was a kind of welcome sign where Trask Avenue meets Beach Boulevard that announces “Garden Grove” with each letter made up of tiles crafted to look like flowers and other gifts of nature.
One of the gifts it brings is that, according to Robin, graffiti artists (as distinguished from “taggers” who are claiming territory) will not deface what they consider to be the works of other artists, including mosaics.
She has since created works all across the town, about a dozen in all. “The reason I do this is to brighten our public space,” she said. “It’s daily exposure to art. I see people smiling as they drive past it, or have their photos taken with it.”
Sometimes she gets paid for her work and sometimes not. But she still continues to dream big for her hometown of 56 years. “I like the direction the city is going with the Pacific Electric right-of-way,” she said, referring to the establishment of a bike/walking path that runs from Nelson Street northeast to Brookhurst Street. She dreams of improving that stretch with public art that would engage people to stop and talk and take photos.
It might take some doing, she knows. “My wish is that public art is part of the process and not an afterthought. We have to decide what our priorities are.”
And mosaics, she says, can be more than just a piece of art. They help “build community pride and add to the value of the community.”
She appreciates the murals that have been added to parks and public buildings. But, she says, with a bit of smile, “Murals last about 20 years, but mosaics go on forever.” Perhaps her art, like the work done in Italy thousands of years ago, will someday put Garden Grove in at least one category with Rome.
Categories: Garden Grove