The Face of Malibu by Johanna Spinks

Mary Wright

Mary Wright, 86, exudes peace and tranquility. Speaking to her will leave you walking away with a sense of warmth and harmony. A longtime environmental activist, Wright has dedicated her life to art and nature and the connection between the two. She received her degree in art education from UCLA and spent 30 years teaching art at public schools in Los Angeles, Japan and the East Coast.

Wright moved to Malibu in 1988 and lost everything in the 1993 Malibu fires — and then again in 2007. She has a nonprofit organization, the Wright Organic Resource Center, which focuses on teaching and supporting people in being creative and environmentally responsible.

The Malibu Times got a chance to sit down with the woman who says she is an introvert by nature trying to appear to be an extrovert.


What is art?

The expression of our deepest connection to beauty.


How long have you been doing watercolor?

Since I was a teenager. In my teens, I often used watercolor to do cartoons and caricatures of my friends in the wilderness and less landscape, but it was still inspired by nature. Although it was a lot more illustration then, it quickly went toward landscapes. 


Is there a particular message you would like to convey with your art?

The connection to nature. The freshness and aliveness in relationship with nature. It’s not necessarily always realistic.


What or who inspires you most in life?

One special teacher at UCLA named Jan Stussy. And going to Japan and learning Japanese brush painting called Sumi-e. I was very inspired by that.


What is a misconception or misunderstanding that most people have about nature?

The misunderstanding about the permanence. It’s very impermanent. Always moving, always changing.


Where’s the best place to connect with or observe nature?

For me, I don’t have to go anywhere. I can be right here where I live. I love going to the ocean and the Sierras. I can find beauty in the fallen leaf.


You lost everything in the 1993 Malibu fire; how does it feel to lose everything? What were you most sad about losing?

My eldest son was here. He was dealing with the fire. Everything went black. He went into a pond that he had made and it saved him. We lost almost everything we owned but we were so grateful of his revival that it meant nothing. We were consumed in gratitude.


What are your thoughts on the world’s climate change?

It’s the greatest challenge that we humans have right now — to attend to the sustainability of our home, the earth. We all should be ready to address it as our top priority.


What is something that your nonprofit organization, Wright Way Organic Resource Center, has accomplished that you’re most proud of?

Bringing community together and sharing the turning of the year. And deepening our connection to the four elements — earth, air, fire and water. I’m most grateful for that.


Do you have any regrets in life?

I wish when I was teaching art that I had more understanding then — as I do now — about deepening their nature connection and brought students closer to nature.


You have been married for 54 years. What advice do you have for newlyweds?

Forgiveness. We all have things that block our relationship of love. Forgiveness of ourselves and others is key.


What is your favorite thing about Malibu? If you could change one thing about Malibu, what would it be and why?

That we all share the extraordinary beauty of the ocean and the mountains coming together. I would reduce the number of boutiques and return a bookstore to Malibu. 


How was it having your portrait painted by Johanna Spinks?

It was a unique experience that I’ve never had before. I kept thinking what it must be like for her to be seeing me from her perspective.