The Face of Malibu by Johanna Spinks

Face of Malibu: Oscar Mondragon painted by Johanna Spinks

“You see a trailer, but if you have the eyes of an artist, you see beyond the trailer, the character, the hopes and dreams.” – Oscar Mondragon 

Lots of things define a community. One of Malibu’s most unique, charitable, and well-run organizations is the Malibu Labor Exchange, run by Oscar Mondragon since 1993. Mondragon, whose day begins at 5:00 a.m., spends his days helping people find work and make a living. A father of seven (the oldest thirty-one, the youngest two years old), Mondragon balances two worlds—his large family and his dedication to Malibu’s struggling workers who seek legitimate and dignified ways to support their families. 

Never expecting to end up in Malibu, Oscar drifted around for several years before receiving a call from local activist Ron Hayes, who handpicked Oscar for the job. Calling the Labor Exchange a “real Malibu creation,” and something that “people care enough about to put time, money and care into,” Mondragon has found his calling. 

What did you like most about living in Malibu? 

Malibu has all this character with the mountains and the ocean but really what I like most are the people. I was able to meet so many great people here who have shown me how to care for others. 

Are there any changes you’d like to see in Malibu? 

Malibu has always in many ways been a place of controversy, with politics especially. I would keep Malibu just the way it is physically—rural. But I would like to see more harmonious conversation between people. So that living here is pleasant for everyone and not just a select few. 

What gets your goat in Malibu? 

That’s a hard question because I love the town. Perhaps the controversy about the political issues of this town, especially with the problems around Legacy Park. 

What’s your favorite thing to do in Malibu? 

My favorite is coming to work. I know that every day I will meet great people, whether it’s workers or people in need, or someone who just wants some conversation. 

How do you see Malibu’s future? 

I would love to see it less costly. People would be more engaged in their own community and have an increased sense of community. 

How was your experience having your portrait painted by Johanna? 

Great. She’s a great conversational person. She’s an amazing artist. It was quite a good experience. In the conversation we were having I was also trying to paint you in my mind of who you are. I am a very spiritual person and enjoy finding out what lies beneath the surface of everyone, and I did that with you today. 

If there is someone whom you feel embodies the spirit of life in Malibu, send nominations for Johanna to paint his or her portrait to knowles@ malibutimes. com. Johanna Spinks also teaches classes in portrait painting, and may be reached at or 310.384.7029.