New exhibit traces rebirth from ’93 Malibu fire

From artist Mary Wright’s perspective, the circle of life not only includes death and often destruction, but birth, renewal and growth. It also creates inspiration for her work.

Drawing in part from the 1993 Malibu fire that destroyed nearly all of her possessions, Wright has created works that have risen from the ashes of that tragedy and become something new and beautiful. Wright has always utilized the elements of land, fire, water and air in her watercolors and collages, but she found added inspiration from the devastation and then transformation of the land around her. 

It’s all part of her new exhibit, titled “Elements: A Circle of Life,” a retrospective of her work now on display at the Malibu Lumber Yard Gallery. 


Wright is a self-proclaimed environmental artist, whose talents have found expression through the wonders of nature. Wright’s circle of life is part of what she refers to as “environmental sanity,” a Zen-like clarity in her mixed media watercolors, using the elements of earth, air, fire and water to create on canvas her own vision of the circle of life. Wright uses found objects, elements from the land, that mimic nature. Sometimes these are remains of objects processed and conceived by natural forces such as fire and water, other times they are simple skeletons or byproducts of the ocean and sand. 

“Environmental sanity, in a way, is the balance and awakening to our connection to nature,” Wright said. “And we need to be aware of how we can be protectors of nature and active in saving the environment.” 

It was nature’s devastating reminder of its power that also inspired her to create a series of works based on the Malibu fire of 1993. 

“The fire swept through the land where we lived and completely took out our trailer on the deck overlooking the ocean. Afterward, it had melted into a big metal slab,” she said. Her husband, architect Eric Lloyd Wright, grandson of Frank Lloyd Wright, and son Devon barely escaped with their lives. In fact, Devon had to jump into a pond to avoid the firestorm. 

“We lost everything, including Eric’s works and those by his grandfather, forever lost to the fire,” she said. “The trailers containing our home and studios with our work were destroyed.” 

But from that tragedy also came a positive affirmation of the wonders of nature, she said. 

“We came through it with a deep emotional gratitude for the elements,” said Wright, a Malibu resident for 24 years. “It was so extraordinary. Within a few months, the wildflowers were back. Nature rebounded. The transformation was dramatic.” 

Wright’s watercolors have often been collages combining color, movement, rhythm and found natural materials, but they take on a new meaning in her latest exhibit. Wright even used bits of burnt wood and ash from the Malibu fire in the mixed media works. 

A passionate environmental activist, Wright’s annual art exhibit at her homestead on a mountain high above Malibu has made her work nationally renowned. 

It was at last year’s event at Wright’s Ranch that artist and designer Seda Baghdasarian found her own inspiration. 

“When l saw her work for the first time on location, I was in tears,” Baghdasarian, the MLY Gallery’s director, said. “I feel so honored to get to know her and show her work at the gallery.” 

Baghdasar ian, prai s ing Wright’s “subtle yet powerful brushstrokes,” was inspired enough to recreate the experience in her first gallery installation alongside Wright’s work at the MLY Gallery. 

“I was so moved by her work,” Baghdasarian said. “The installation was quite an undertaking. The installation of the gallery was extensive, but we tried to recreate the elements expressed in her work.” 

Already the exhibit has been successful. The Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University has purchased a piece for part of its permanent collection. 

The exhibit, which includes more than 100 pieces, runs through November. A percentage of profits will benefit the Wiser Earth Foundation and Global Green USA. The MLY Gallery is located at 3939 Cross Creek Road in the Malibu Lumber Yard Shopping Center. 

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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