The concept of living an artistic life—one that encourages creativity and exploration, a life that greets each day as a blank canvas, a path that pursues new and exciting challenges never previously attempted—this concept might seem to be a fantasy to most. Not to Bill McLane. The primarily self-taught artist has been fortunate enough to pursue his passion for most of his life. Years spent on the island of Martha’s Vineyard would often find him attending to an easel perched in the midst of some of the most iconic vistas found on the picturesque outpost.
Now based in Warren, Rhode Island, McLane’s artistic endeavors have a freedom enjoyed by few that he partially credits to a life-changing event: when he underwent heart surgery in 2013. “I decided that if I had a second chance I was not going to waste a minute of it,” McLane says. He also felt it was important to contribute his talent in some sort of meaningful way and started teaching at the Bristol Art Museum. McLane, whose formal instruction includes time spent in ateliers in Munich in the ’80s, has been profoundly affected by the mentoring process he provides his students. “They keep me on my toes, and every class is an opportunity for all of us to explore countless interpretations of what art can be,” he explains.
Perhaps because of McLane’s enthusiastic quest that has become his artistic journey, his own work has become difficult to pigeonhole as one style. Instead, his landscapes, for which he had originally been known, have evolved from the 19th-century style found in Monet’s seaside expressions of Argenteuil, to impressive still life vignettes evocative of the Dutch masters. He credits his vociferous appetite for consuming and understanding the technique and style of any artist, particularly the most notable throughout history, as providing his education. His years of plein air painting on the Vineyard were fostered by Alan Whiting, a notable second-generation island artist who would take him to remote and treasured spots that he says he would never have found without Whiting’s generous expertise.
The time limits of painting in the moment allowed McLane to develop a fairly unique process of moving through a painting. Instead of creating layers of color, as most oil artists employ, “I dab ‘lozenges’ of paint all over the canvas and then join them together to create not only the image, but also the transition of the light and color,” McLane explains. The result is a decidedly lighter brushwork that is commonly associated more with watercolors, but still has the reverence an oil painting can command.
McLane’s avidity for creating art through a myriad of interpretive styles has rendered an impressive and prolific body of work—and his embrace of life and all the beauty found therein is palpable. “I am intrigued by any interaction, whether it is in nature or between people or even between inanimate objects,” he says. “It may sound impossible that I can see movement in still life, but I do. It is that moment before and the moment after what is depicted in the painting. I always want to know what happens next.”