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Individuality abounds at local Saddlerock Painters group

Portraits created by (left to right) Theresa Harris, Anne Mainierie and John Galan depict life model Mather Lough (middle) during a recent meeting of the Saddlerock Painters in Malibu. Photos by Barbara Burke/22nd Century Media
Malibu artist Johanna Spinks uses a palette knife to create her piece, “Om,” inspired by life model Mather Lough, during a recent meeting of the Saddlerock Painters.
Artist John Galan paints life model Mather Lough.
Pictured is the final piece created by artist Theresa Harris during a recent meeting of the Saddlerock Painters. Image Submitted
Barbara Burke, Freelance Reporter
9:23 am PST February 7, 2017

As one enters the art room at the home of Malibu portrait artist Johanna Spinks, where a group of diligent, prolific, and enormously talented artists paint together every week, their creative energies seem to surge out to greet her.  

The creative space near Saddlerock Mountain in the inspiring Malibu Wine Country exudes that wonderful, exhilarating joy that one feels when encountering vibrant, joyful colors that excite. 

Every week, members of the Saddlerock Painters group gather with a life model posing to collectively paint, to share, to connect and to network.  

It is a veritable creative heaven.  

It is a very unique creative haven.  

It is a wonderful art salon for painters who strive to depict forms with the highest precision and perfection. Such opportunities for artists are quite few in and near Malibu.

“I must paint from life one time a week or I feel I am cheating my skill set and my development as an artist. I believe in this discipline,” Spinks said. “This is such a beautiful area. It is calming. In summer, the doors are open and the birds are singing while we paint.”

When Malibu Surfside News visited last month, Spinks was joined by fellow artists Anne Mainierie, John Galan, Helen Allois and Theresa Harris.

Life model Mather Lough sat calmly and still as stone for three hours as the artists strived to capture every nuance, every shadow in her form, the lovely colors of her garb, and the subtle tones in her red tresses. 

“I slow my mind down. I exist,” Lough said, of her thoughts while modeling. “There is a certain level of discomfort, but the good outweighs the bad. I get to collaborate with other artists. I go home and do yoga and it is fine.”  

Allois, who specializes in painting in the genre of the Old Masters, and who also illustrated the collectible edition of the stories by Edgar Allan Poe and Ray Bradbury “The Fall of the House of Usher/Usher II,” published by Gauntlet Press in 2010, said she loves to visit the artists group.  

“It allows us to share thoughts about shows and projects,” Allois said. 

It is only fitting that this enclave of painters gathers at a place nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains, where geological formations hover above Malibu’s mountain landscapes as the nearby cliffs slowly descend to the Pacific.  

The area has inspired artists for centuries. The Chumash, who inhabited the area for many thousands years before white settlers arrived, considered the area to be sacred and created colorful cave paintings that still fascinate today.  

The artists at the painting sessions focus on various media and each has their own take on how to paint the model.

“I’ve always loved faces,” Mainierie said. “The use of a life model provides an exchange of energy and a connection and allows you to see colors you won’t see from a photo. If I’m lucky, at some point I catch the image of the life model. But then inevitably, I lose it only to catch it later. It is difficult, if the model moves at all it is like the upheaval of a puzzle.”

Harris, who does both landscape and portraiture, thoroughly enjoys the Saddlerock painting sessions.  

“In Saddlerock Painters, I sketch first, and then paint from the life model,” she said. “When I work from my personal studio, I look to photos and the sketches when the model isn’t available.”

Galan, who was a student of Spinks when she taught at the California Art Institute, said that the painting sessions inspire him and enable him to collaborate and network. 

“Studying portraiture here is great because it is a nice group of friends to talk to,” he said. “You can tell a story with portraits, and there is more meaning behind the personality when there is a life model.”

The Saddlerock Painters group has helped Galan evolve as an artist. 

“There is a saying in my culture ‘ni de aqui, ni de alla,’ which means that growing up with two contrasting cultures makes you feel like you don’t belong to either,” Galan said. “I incorporate symbolic references such as season(s), weather and even cultural identifiers in order to reflect an individual’s personality and roots.”

The lovely room where the painters create their lovely artworks has an inspiring quotation from Buddha inscribed above a doorway. 

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become,” it states. 

The Saddlerock Painters group helps each participating artist become their very best, and provides an opportunity for the artists to collaborate and create.  

The group is contemplating having an exhibit in collaboration with a local vineyard. The group also is welcoming participating artists who are able to work well in a group setting. All mediums are welcome, as are all levels of skill.

It’s all about getting those proverbial creative juices flowing and about supporting one another. 

Saddlerock Painters meets from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. every Wednesday. Travel easels and reservations are required, and the cost is $35 per session. For more information on the group, contact Spinks at or (310) 384-7029.