Ann Mohnkern has lived in a house on the banks of the Cousins River in Yarmouth for 40 years. She and her husband spend their summers on a small island in Casco Bay.
“I can sit and stare at the water for hours,” said Mohnkern, 73. “It’s imprinted in my brain.”
Yet it only occurred to him much later in life to turn this fascination into creativity.
Mohnkern, a self-taught painter whose oil-on-canvas work draws heavily on seascapes, recently installed an exhibit at Merrill Public Library in Yarmouth. It will be on display until May 13.
His first exhibition dates back to 2006 at the same library. She had just taken an introductory course at the Maine College of Art & Design and was struck by how quickly it took. Since then she has been painting.
Early on, she submitted one of her paintings for an exhibition of the American Society of Marine Artists. When he was cast, Mohnkern said she was “devastated.”
“I was such a newbie, you know,” she said.
Today, her work has been featured in museums across the country, including as part of the biennial at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockport in 2010. She currently has pieces on display at The Gallery at Somes Sound on Mount Desert Island.
Mohnkern, who is now retired but served for years as assistant general counsel for the Unum insurance company in Portland, paints primarily in her studio from photographs, some of which she manipulates in Photoshop to arrive at the aesthetics she is looking for.
“I can take images and crop and stretch and change colors or bring in other elements and experiment and come up with ideas of what I want it to look like,” she said.
She also occasionally does outdoor work. His pieces are incredibly realistic, almost like photographs themselves, but with more texture. In the 20 years she has painted, Mohnkern said her approach has not changed. Even his Portland cityscapes often feature oceanfront buildings.
“I live on the water,” she says. “That’s all I ever wanted. This is what stimulates my imagination.
It’s not just water that inspires, it’s movement.
“Water is fascinating because it is heavy. It has weight, so it always moves in a certain way, but it moves in a way that has a ripple. Everything you see is related to something else.
She is also drawn to painting water in Maine because the color changes so much. Sometimes the water is green because of the plant material underneath. Other times it’s blue when the sky is reflected, but a different blue from the clear water of the tropical ocean. His pieces are both current and historical.
Although she is now a professional artist – she has sold dozens of pieces – Mohnkern said she was not someone who spent eight hours a day in her studio. Instead, she works in blocks of time when inspired. In 2020, when so much has been shut down due to the pandemic, Mohnkern has barely painted.
“You would have thought I would have taken this time and been productive, but the world was so distracting,” she said.
This winter was the opposite, though she acknowledged that the library exhibit deadline probably spurred her on. She said taking some time off probably did her some good anyway.
In addition to the seascapes that have become a trademark, Mohnkern has recently produced several pieces featuring ocean rocks and outcrops, sometimes with water, sometimes not.
“I do them with a palette knife, applying the paint a bit like you’re frosting something, like a kid,” she said. “Then I keep adding it and moving it around.”
The current exhibition includes over 30 paintings in two galleries of the library. Their price ranges from $1,500 to $6,000. Mohnkern said she has a much different feeling now than when she was first exhibited 16 years ago.
“I’m more at peace,” she said. “I have a lot more confidence in my work.”
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