The Art in Heart

June 10, 2021

A couple weeks ago, Davis artist Mark Rivera passed away. The memorial for him this evening included an art walk from the Davis Food Coop to Central Park, passing eight of his pieces along the way. Eight. Then, several hundred people (by my estimation) gathered in the plaza for a memorial.

Again, I didn’t know Mark well, but was grateful to be in a familiar setting, among familiar faces, on a truly exquisite evening in my town, surrounded by a lot of love for one of our own. I was glad to have crossed his path, to have shared a small part of a wonderful project (the Compassion Bench, appropriately enough), and certainly understood, from my experience of him, what everyone was feeling. That is exactly the kind of community I cherish.

Andy — friend, pub quizmaster, former poet laureate — was the master of ceremonies. He wrote and presented this poem:

The Work, The Art

A Poem for Mark Rivera (1971-2021)

We walk past them, the grandiloquent creations

That appear as fantastical polychromatic sentinels,

Modern gargoyles standing guard on Davis street corners,

Artworks that fill our strolls and perhaps our dreams with color.

The creations guard against complacency, against tedium,

Daring even the hurried traveler to imagine something wild.

Reminiscent of an artistic renaissance, the intricacy astounds.

Each stone, each tile, each precisely chipped luminescent pebble

Has been imagined, formulated, and then perfectly placed

By a laborer, by a craftsman, by an artist who crafted

By heart and with heart, assembling collections

That reach towards transcendence, that coalesce into wonder.

A child tries to name what he feels as he gazes upon the work:

A spirit soaring towards sublimity, and then resting upon gratitude.

Two folks sang Gentle on My Mind, which seemed so fitting. Family members told stories of Mark’s past and the early life and traumas that shaped him. And then another hour of folks coming to the mic to reflect on the Mark they knew. Most spoke of the heart in his art, his kindness, his joy and loving spirit.

One friend begged people to get sober and at that moment I understood what had happened. I thought of Jeff and his memorial just a month ago.


Here’s some of the art Mark leaves behind. I found myself wondering how long the pieces will survive on walls, in front of downtown buildings, in people’s homes… 50 years? 100 years? More? Isn’t that a weird thought?

The Carrot in front of the Coop, from 2010

(sneaky photo credit: Andy).

Taking the Scenic Route, 2007, adjacent to the USDA building. This follows the ramp from the parking structure, wrapping around walls. It’s just stunning.

This is the Phoenix at 3rd and D. And in the picture is Donna Billick, his mentor and long time collaborator. She led the walk and made comments at the memorial. She told me they’d worked together on 85 pieces of art.

He’s all over town.

It’s a wonderful piece of yourself to leave behind.

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