May 26, 2021

Mark Rivera and I were not close friends, but he’s someone I really enjoyed. He died peacefully in his sleep five days ago.

He was a ceramic artist who I worked with on the Compassion Bench project in 2013 (my role was minimal, but we sat in a lot of meetings together and I got to ride with him to his studio out in the country a couple of times as we transported tiles back and forth to 3rd and C Streets). I’ll remember him as a warm human being, always greeting people with a genuine smile and such kind and gentle words, always. I’ll also remember the time Jim and I ran into him downtown one night when he was enjoying some ecstasy and boy, did he shower us with love and hugs!

He’s left a beautiful mark on this town, with colorful, joyful ceramic sculptures in so many places. I’ve noticed flowers left at at least two of those pieces of art in the past couple of days. I love that he is so treasured.

Another artist on the Compassion Bench project was bench designer Brennan Blazer Bird, who wrote the following, which perfectly captures the Mark I had the pleasure of meeting and knowing.

This past weekend a dear friend passed away unexpectedly in his sleep. Mark Rivera was a prolific ceramic & mosaic artist, you literally cannot go anywhere in Davis without seeing his colorful and vibrant installations. He was also an incredibly caring, gentle, and humble man, who seemed to always have a big smile on the ready & a twinkle in his eye.

In 2013 I had the sincere honor to work closely with Mark Rivera & compassion activist David Breaux to build the Compassion Corner Earthbench, which still lives at the corner of 3rd & C streets in Downtown Davis. This was my first public art installation and it was a real joy to work alongside Mark with all his decades of experience as a public mosaic artist. In all my years of building Earthbenches, this was by far the best experience – we shut down the street for a big cob building workday with local band Tha Dirt Feelin’ – even the mayor of Davis came out to mix cob! Mark invited the community to make ceramic pieces in honor of compassion; he then meticulously pieced them together into the mosaic panels you see here.

Dear Mark~I love you brother! I am so sorry we didn’t get to share another time together before you made this journey. I so appreciate your friendship, your laughter, and your incredible generosity in sharing your gift with the world. Thank you so much for being my friend and my mentor.Just this past January I was telling my ceramic friend about how amazing you are, and I really wanted us to come to Davis and go on a bike tour with you around town to see all your art. I’m really sad that didn’t happen. Your passing has really shaken me, and made me remember how precious life is, and how important it is to cherish every present moment. I’m feeling really inspired to reach out to dear friends who I haven’t talked to or seen in years, to tell them that I still really care about them, that I love them, while I still can. So thank you for that gift that you have given me. I loved working on the Compassion Corner Earthbench with you; you were such a comrade in the arts. I loved our silly banter, our conversations & common interest in bringing more creativity & light to the world, and our uncanny ability to know exactly when it was time to take a smoke break haha. Thank you for sharing this experience with me, I will cherish it for the rest of my life.I hope you have an amazing and gentle journey into the next realm Mark! You will continue to be a shining light wherever you are. Thank you for being such a beautiful brother and for sharing so much of your gift with your community.With deep love & appreciation,~Brennan Blazer Bird

Brennan took this one of Mark in his studio:

Mark coordinated the tile making part of the project. Community members made a tile that said “compassion” to them and he assembled them into these large pieces that he then installed on the bench.

This is the underbelly of the bench… cob and dirt and other natural earth materials… and you can see the garbage-stuffed bottle that will also comprise the structure of the bench…(this was Brennan’s design and you can see why it’s called an Earthbench).

Mark and Brennan.. the artists.

Here are Mark, Brennan and me on dedication day:

Here’s Mark making comments at the dedication:

David Breaux was the reason for the bench in the first place. He had stood on this corner for years collecting in a notebook peoples’ ideas about compassion. It seemed fitting that a bench should be installed to honor him and the community’s commitment to compassion.

David, Brennan and me, also on dedication day… probably listening to Mark!

At the dedication, we had a fabulous cake!!

… which was a pretty great replica of the bench itself, no? The bench is unique and beautiful, but it’s the ceramic tiles and the messages each conveys that makes it such a moving and memorable art piece.

That’s Jim and David … many a conversation with David have been had on this bench.

Today I walked by the bench and saw this memorial to Mark..

RIP, Mark.