Painting the Town - Page 2

When mosaic master Alfonso Pardiñas lit up the Bay Area with his colored glass and lively personality
Painting the Town
An exterior wall in the mosaicist's signature flowing style for a BofA building designed by Wurster, Bernardi and Emmons at
730 I Street in Sacramento.
Painting the Town
Pardiñas with his crew pose in front of a new installation.
Painting the Town
This beautiful 12-foot-high St. Francis of Assisi bronze statue by sculptor Benny Bufano featured mosaics by Pardiñas.

"We'd go to Chinatown [in San Francisco], and everybody would know him," his daughter Ilka Erren Pardiñas recalls. "It was like being with a rock star today. We'd go to Enrico's [restaurant in S.F.'s North Beach], and it would be, 'Oh! Alfonso! We have a table for you right here!' And, 'Oh! What do the kids want? Ice cream?' And the ice cream would be right there.

"And nobody asked him to pay for anything."

A regular at Enrico's and the nearby Black Cat, Pardiñas was a gourmand who knew the finest restaurants, an artist whose warehouse studio near the waterfront attracted everyone. "There were always artists, poets, and dancers," Ilka recalls.

He also attracted women. "They were like flies to the honey," says Cristina Pardiñas, his wife through most of the '60s. "He was a very charming man, very handsome."

Pardiñas began as a professional tile setter doing bathrooms, says his brother Guillermo Gutierrez, who worked with him. By the mid-1950s, entranced by Italian church mosaics, Pardiñas formed the firm Byzantine Mosaics ('an ancient art fused with contemporary expression' was its motto).

"He would procure the jobs, and he would get the commissions," says Lillian Sizemore, a scholar of mosaics and a mosaic artist. "He was the wheeler dealer. And he would get them fabricated."

"Pardiñas was the facilitator," she says, translating the design artist's work into mosaic, and overseeing the fabrication of the mosaic and its installation.

Although Pardiñas' friends and family say he may have designed much of his work himself, including his well-known abstract, flowing forms for such locations as the two El Cerrito BART stations, Sizemore is not so sure. She thinks the designer may have been Jorgé Rodriguez, artistic director of Mosiacos Venecianos, who had a background in art Pardiñas did not possess.

Pardiñas oversaw the creation of mosaics to designs by many artists, including his friends Beniamino Bufano, Jean Varda, and Alex Anderson.

Commercial jobs included exterior mosaics for Bank of America branches, some in his signature flowing motif. He produced stagecoaches in mosaic for Wells Fargo, and for Safeway groceries a giant mosaic 'S.'

Among his most noted installations were the golden onion domes and exterior mosaics on the Holy Virgin Cathedral on Geary Boulevard, hard to miss as they glisten in the sun.

Mosaics had a major resurgence in the mid-century, Sizemore says, allowing artists to translate paintings and drawings into a permanent medium that could be displayed out of doors and in busy public places. The results, she says, would be something "exalting and extra special."

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