The Artist

Al Marcenkus

Al Marcenkus is a full time resident of Bonita Springs, FL. Al became a full time artist in 2005 studying under Dick Ensing, “Impressionist Painter of the Great Smoky Mountains”. Al painted hundreds of plein air oil paintings of the The Great Smoky Mountains National Park until moving to Florida in 2011. Now, Al paints landscapes of Florida. Al also paints abstract, figure, and other media, subjects, and styles.

Al has sold his work throughout the United States, shown in numerous galleries in Tennessee and Florida. Al has also won several competitions and shows.

My encounter with Ernie the Lowland "Silverback" Gorilla

I had the opportunity to paint the Knoxville Zoo’s resident Silverback gorilla, Ernie, in autumn of 2006, as a new artist. His enclosure was large with a clear window separating us. I was able to set up my painting gear right next to the window.

Ernie saw me set up and start painting. He came right up to me, obviously curious. When I turned around the painting, he recognized it was him. He pointed to his chest and sat down right in front of me and posed for over an hour. He was so intelligent and completely aware of everything happening around him. We developed a real connection over the course of a day. Upon return visits to the zoo, it was clear that he remembered me and viewed me as a friend.


My encounter with Ernie profoundly changed me in two ways. First, I came to understand that animals, especially primates, are so much more intelligent and self aware than we give them credit for. They are true individuals. Second, I wanted to paint en plein air for the rest of my life.

In 2010, Ernie was moved to another zoo to be a part of a breeding program. Hopefully we will meet again someday!