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 an island in Casco Bay.
“I can sit and watch the water for hours. It’s imprinted on my brain,” said Mohnkern, 73.
Still, it wasn’t until her later years that this fascination turned into creativity.
Mohnkern, a self-taught painter whose oil-on-canvas work focuses on seascapes, recently had an exhibition at the Merrill Public Library in Yarmouth. It will be on display until May 13.
Her first exhibition was held at the same library in 2006. She only recently took an introductory class at the Maine College of Art and Design, and was struck by how fast it was. She has been painting ever since.
Earlier, she submitted one of her paintings to the Society of Marine Artists of America. When it was chosen, Mohnkern said she was “intimidated”.
“I’m a newbie, you know,” she said.
Her work is now exhibited in museums across the country, including as part of the 2010 Biennale at the Maine Center for Contemporary Art in Rockport. She is currently exhibiting at the Somes Sound Gallery on Desert Island Hill.
Mohnkern is now retired but has been assistant general counsel for Portland insurance company Unum for many years, drawing mostly from photographs in her studio, some of which she processed in Photoshop to achieve what she was after aesthetics.
“I can take an image, crop, stretch and change colors, or bring in other elements and experiment and get an idea of how or how I want it to look,” she says.
She also occasionally does outdoor work. Her work is so realistic, it’s almost like the photo itself, but with more texture. In her 20-year painting career, Mohnkern says her approach hasn’t changed. Even her cityscapes in Portland often feature waterfront buildings.
“I live on the water,” she said. “That’s what I’ve always wanted. That’s what sparks my imagination.”
It’s not just the water that inspires, it’s also the movement.
“Water is fascinating because it’s heavy. It has weight, so it always moves a certain way, but there are fluctuations in the way it moves. Everything you see is related to other things.”
She also likes to paint water in Maine because of the wide variety of colors. Sometimes, the water turns green from the plant material below. Other times, it’s blue when the sky reflects, but a different blue than clear tropical waters. Her work looks both modern and historic.
Even though she’s now a professional artist — she’s sold dozens of pieces — Mohnkern says she’s not one to spend eight hours a day in the studio. Instead, she works for a period of time when she is inspired. In 2020, when a lot of things are shut down because of the pandemic, Mohnkern barely paints.
“You would think I would take my time and be productive, but the world is so distracting,” she said.
It’s the opposite this winter, though she admits that library exhibition deadlines may inspire her. Either way, she said, the time off could be good for her.
In addition to the seascapes that have become trademarks, Mohnkern has recently made several pieces featuring ocean rocks and outcrops, sometimes with water, sometimes without.
“I do those with a pallet knife and paint it like you’re frosting something, like a kid,” she said. “Then I keep adding and moving it around.”
The current exhibition includes more than 30 paintings from the library’s two galleries. They range in price from $1,500 to $6,000. Mohnkern says she feels a lot different now than when she had her first exhibition 16 years ago.
“I’m calmer,” she said. “I have more confidence in my work.”