Story by Kate Monroe
Walking into Mark Bathen’s Oceanside, Calif. backyard is like walking onto the set of a pirate movie. He has built a pirate ship and series of waterfront businesses in his backyard named “Pirate’s Cove.”
What makes this piece unique is the fact that it is entirely made from scrap material, junk and nonsensical items.
When his neighbors found out what he was building, they began to donate scraps of lumber, used household objects, remnants from their own household renovations and more.
“At one point people stopped coming to the door to see if I could use stuff. They just walked up to the fence and tossed it over,” said Bathen. “Marylin [my girlfriend] and I would just be sitting in the backyard relaxing and a piece of junk would just come flying over the fence.” At one point the materials were piled over four feet high in his backyard.
While building “Pirate’s Cove” Bathen had surgery on his left wrist to remove a ganglion cyst. During recovery he developed an infection. At one point went to his neighbor and said, “I think I’m dying.”
Bathen was rushed to the hospital where it was determined that he had a staph infection. It was making his body septic. About fifty percent of his body was shutting down.
The doctors did another surgery to cut away the infection from the first surgical site. This procedure meant the doctors had to cut away about eight ounces of tissue. He was put on high performing antibiotics to kill the rest of the infection in his body.
Once Bathen was cleared of the infection and released from the hospital, it was time to get back to the art. Unfortunately, the surgery and subsequent infection left Bathen weak and unable to do the work he wanted to do.
Bathen has great friends, though. Friends that come over to help cut wood, hammer nails and lift heavy scrap lumber. On one occasion, two of his buddies helped build part of the ship for eight hours.
All they asked for in return was Bathen’s specialty tacos, which he was more than happy to make. They worked from noon until 8 P.M. that day.
In all, it took about a year-and-a-half to complete the project, and Bathen is in love with the result.
He named the ship the Ananda, which means bliss in Hindi, he told me. The ship even has a dingy to match.
The ship and village have served as the set for an episode of “The Children’s Corner,” titled “The Terrific Train Debacle,” on YouTube. Bathen did get an offer to buy the piece, but he declined, because they would have to cut it into three parts to haul it away.
“She can’t be duplicated. It’s like she built herself,” said Bathen of the Ananda.
Bathen started exploring art as a child. He says he “just has the creative genes” and was born to be an artist. He’s had several careers in his life, including Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputy, coffee shop owner, art gallery owner, and, of course, artist.
Bathen has painted several murals for the Make a Wish Foundation and completed a project for JJ the Whale, as well as policemen statues for the LA County Sheriff’s Department.
While he loves all facets of art, Bathen’s favorite medium to work with is oil paints. He paints and writes every day. His favorite artists include Michael Angelo and Leonardo Da Vinci for their ability to “do it all.”
Apart from “Pirate’s Cove” Bathen’s other favorite piece that he has done is, “Not Going My Way,” a statue carved from redwood.
The piece was inspired after he snubbed a hitchhiker sporting a guitar and a sign reading ‘San Francisco.’ It wasn’t until he finished the piece that he realized the man he had carved sitting against the tree log, strumming a guitar was himself.
Bathen wrote a song to accompany the carving as well which he would like to put to a black and white video, one day.
When asked where he gets his inspiration from, Bathen’s response was, “Emotion. That’s it. It’s the emotion.”
Bathen still struggles with his health, which continues to be his biggest obstacle as an artist. He still suffers from ganglion cysts in his wrists. Although the one on his left wrist has been removed, he has another in his right that has yet to be operated on.
But another large hurdle for Bathen is time. “Time is the nemesis,” he said, “There’s never enough time.”
Current projects Bathen is working on include an autobiography, oil paintings and songs. His future plans include a steam train and Victorian train station on the opposite side of his yard. He has already begun collecting material for the project. The “railroad crossing” sign and “do not stop on tracks” sign already adorn his garden. He also hinted about turning his hillside into a pyramid of Mexico
Bathen advises other artists to “Never stop creating. Never stop. Hang onto your passion. Don’t ever give up on your passion.”
Bathen’s piece “Pirate’s Cove” is whimsical, fun, full of character, and sparks curiosity in every nook and cranny. When I first saw the structure, I wanted explore it and frolic across the bridges, like a little kid. As I looked around I really felt like I could be on the waterfront in a pirate village. The storefront lets the viewer imagine scenes that might be going on behind the doors and windows.
Upon first look, all I saw was the ship and the town, but as I strolled along the narrow boardwalk I could see the various pieces used to make the structures. I saw an outdated cabinet door used as a front door of a business, old roof tiles and garden fences.
The tiny town is wired for light too. There are lanterns and bulbs at various places throughout the assembly that Bathen turns on when the sun goes down.
Bathen shared with me that the rear of the ship was made from discarded blinds. I was wowed. I thought it was made of wood.
His crafting and artistry makes it look realistic. Bathen had everyone who helped sign a piece of small wood and hang it on the Contributor’s Wall next to the end of the waterfront town.
This piece allows you to suspend the belief of reality and get lost in a world of wonder and intrigue. I can only hope to visit again someday and see the structure lit up at night.