Alligator Reef Light by artist Monica Bankowski. CONTRIBUTED

In mid-September 2021, Monica Bankowski received news that no one wants to hear. She found out that she had a 9-millimeter brain aneurysm, and it had to be dealt with quickly.  

She had surgery scheduled for the first week in November and would have the month of October to do pre-tests. While the news of the aneurysm is scary enough, as an artist, you have to wonder if things would change after the surgery. Who knows how your creativity would respond?  It was like being on a roller coaster and her heart was racing. She had to do something that she could control.  

“It was a concern that endovascular brain surgery could leave me incapacitated, or diminish other body functions, including the ability to draw or paint. I jokingly said perhaps I would come out of surgery a better painter,” she said. “In reality I was quite terrified and leaned on prayer warriors and the Lord to get through the surgery and recovery.”  

Bankowski knew she had the month of October before her surgery and she decided to challenge herself. She used the entire month to paint. A surge of creativity overflowed from brush to paper. She painted recent scenes she had seen and photographed.  She also painted scenes from over 20 years ago that she always wanted to paint, but could not find the time. Now was her chance, now was the time.

Bankowski taught art from kindergarten to college-aged students for more than 40 years. She and her husband first came to the Keys more than 30 years ago, and a visit to Alligator Reef and its turquoise waters cemented her love for the Keys. She teaches watercolor painting at Our Place in Paradise and at the Ocean Reef Art League.  

Monica Bankowski. CONTRIBUTED

“Growing up in the Great Lakes area, I was outside as much as possible and enjoyed studying the shapes, colors and textures in nature,” she said.

There were several significant people in her young life who made a difference. Bankowski’s mom recognized her talent and encouraged her to pursue her art. Bankowski’s high school art teacher helped her in creating a portfolio that landed her art scholarships. It was a college professor who recommended she go into teaching.

Although Bankowski works in many mediums, watercolor is her passion.  

“Painting in watercolor is like walking a tightrope. You are careful; you know something unexpected can happen,” she said. “But if something goes wrong, don’t fall; instead, go with it and jump in. Watercolor painting keeps me on my toes. It can be loose and messy, too tight and defining. I choose watercolor because I accept the challenge it offers.”

Bankowski describes her art style as fine art to fun art. She paints subjects in any style, including abstract. Her style is always evolving, and she learns from each painting. Her creations don’t fit into just one box. 

Bankowski’s art in that fateful October just flowed out of her. She just created; she didn’t come up with a common theme in mind. As the weeks went by, she realized she did have a theme. The seashells, the plants, the round table, chairs and spiral staircase all turned out to be circular. Curved shapes revealed her feelings of being out of control.  

“It was like a downward spiral, and yet I was held in safety as the Lord watched over me. It is said it’s okay to be afraid, just do what you need to do,” she said. “That roller coaster was heading higher and higher. I had to sit back and let myself be cushioned by a pillow of prayers. Right up to the time I was put under I felt the pillow of prayers. The series is known as the ‘Spiral Series.’

“Today I am functioning well and thankful everyday that the Lord was faithful in my fear and carried me through better than I could have imagined,” Bankowski said. 

Her artwork can be found at Our Place in Paradise Gallery, Art on a Whim Gallery in the Rain Barrel and at the Ocean Reef Art League during the season. To enroll in one of Bankowski’s classes, register with Our Place in Paradise Gallery at 88711 Overseas Hwy., or call 305-916-5828.

William DePaula is an artist, designer and gemologist who believes in the power of art. From his early childhood onward, he has never stopped drawing, painting and creating. He envisions a world in which beauty is as important as function, where culture and history are respected, and where nature is at once powerful and vulnerable. Infusing an essence of life in all his paintings, DePaula understands beauty is accessible to all. DePaula's art has been featured in select art museums around the world.