Local portrait artist Johanna Spinks knows a thing or two about Malibu.

Aside from her decades of residency and the fact she raised her kids here, Johanna has had the opportunity to meet and spend time with 50 of the most influential residents in this small seaside town, through her ongoing portrait project, The Face of Malibu.

This month, Spinks crosses that milestone with her 50th and 51st sitters, Arnold and Karen York. Reflecting back on her four years of portraiture, Spinks said it has been an “extraordinary journey” so far, full of challenges and rewards.

“First of all, it’s demanding. It’s demanding of me artistically. It’s not that easy painting someone in an hour and a half, maybe two hours, while they’re telling me all about themselves,” Spinks described. 

“You both get to know each other on a level that isn’t usually available in your regular outside world, and certainly I’ve had people tell me that, who have been sitters,” Spinks continued. “It’s an extraordinary journey, and a journey I’ll never have again in my art once I finish my portrait project.”

Spinks began the portrait series in Malibu after completing a similar collection in Ventura. She mentioned she is also beginning a similar portrait project in Charleston, N.C.

While her mission is to tell the story of the town through a diverse cross-section of people — “dog groomers to philanthropists” — Spinks said she would like to include more young people and more sitters from different cultural backgrounds.

“What’s the new face of Malibu?” Spinks said. “The new youth of Malibu, the people I don’t really know. I’m interested in that.”

Spinks mentioned her mentor, Everett Raymond Kinstler, was influential in her ability to paint while conversing with subjects.

Kinstler, a world-famous portraitist who’s painted eight American presidents, uses a technique of connecting with the painter, Spinks said, which is what she does when painting for the series.

“You can just move on a sort of subconscious level where you’re talking with the sitter and not focusing completely on the painting,” Spinks said.

She did say there’s one personal drawback to the technique — her portraits come out rushed.

“You’re not really showing the world your painting to your very best level, because it’s just an hour and a half, but I’ve chosen — I’ve had — to let my art ego go, so that I can achieve that,” Spinks said.

As for what lies ahead in the series, the artist said she sees more to come, though there is no specific date or number of portraits she sees as a finish line.

“I feel I’d like the project to go on longer,” Spinks said. “I don’t feel I’ve said it all yet.”

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