Looking for a Place to Land

 Sun and Shadows, oil on canvas, 23.5 x 35.5′

Bill McLane returns to the Vineyard.

“I paint pictures,” Bill McLane said when asked for a little background on himself. “It’s really as simple as that.” All at once, the phrase sums up his occupation, what he does for a living, and his passion. It sounds like an affirmation, really. I paint, therefore I am.

McLane opened a show of Vineyard work at the Edgartown Gallery this summer, after more than 15 years away from the Island. He said it was the geographic location that lured him back. “I want to paint the New England south coast. I want to get as much done as I can before I die. Oysters, sailboats, farm equipment — those are the things I’m interested in.”

Those same subjects beckoned McLane to the Island from the start; he relocated to the Vineyard in 1993. “I said to myself, ‘I want to paint here,’” McLane told Arts & Ideas. “The possibilities were so unlimited. There was a constant current of money from tourism. And the physical beauty is unparalleled.”

It seemed like a perfect fit: McLane’s work was well received by buyers, gallery owners, and an entire community of influential Vineyard artists, including Allen Whiting, Richard Lee, and Nick Thayer. Then, around the turn of the century, McLane left it all behind, and moved about as far away as one can get in the continental United States, to California.

“It was time for a change,” McLane said. “I had painted what I could, and I had to reinvent myself. I needed some new things to paint.”

McLane’s reasons for going are the same as for his coming: his art. But there are undertones of conflict on a more personal, or perhaps cultural, level. “As a wash-ashore you are accepted, but you’re never one of them, you know?”

After several years out west, McLane made his way back to the New England coast, settling in Rhode Island. From there, he jumps the Sound regularly to paint and show work on the Island. “I have no interest in California anymore,” McLane said. “As I get older, I seem to gravitate more and more toward home.”

Although “home” comes with a lot of complicated feelings, most of them are positive. McLane says the Vineyard inspires his art in a way that other places, no matter how beautiful, have not matched.

“The physical beauty is unique unto itself,” McLane said. “Just that makes it quite easy to become entranced. The lakes, the ponds, the coastal areas — the Vineyard allowed me to come into my own as an artist. It allowed me a focal point that has not happened elsewhere.”

For someone who so readily admits painting is an integral part of his personality and decision-making process, that focal point eventually set off a homing instinct in McLane. He says the return is a fresh start, not a return to the old.

“It’s nice to be away, but it’s nice to be back. There’s a lot of lunacy, a lot of eccentrics here, because it allows for that. It allows a lot of freedom. I had to reinvent myself before, and I can reinvent again now.”

Summer Day, Wasque

Summer Day, Wasque

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