Bill Buckley describes himself as “Just a regular guy with a painting addiction.”
How did it start? “I broke an ankle in seventh grade and couldn’t go to school. I started painting then and never stopped.”
Now, at 57, the part-time artist will have his first solo show on the Vineyard, which will showcase his vibrant acrylic paintings of Island vistas. The show, titled Vineyard Views, will be on display at the Chilmark Library from May 1 to May 21, with an opening reception this Saturday from 3 to 5 pm.
Mr. Buckley works full time as an elevator repairman in the Boston area and spends weekends at his second home in Dodgers Hole, Edgartown. His daughter has a house next door and his wife, Jeanne, spends half her week at the couples’ home in Saugus and half here.
On a typical weekend, Mr. Buckley is on the road by 6 am on Saturday to catch an early boat to the Vineyard. On arrival, he often heads straight out to paint. On Sunday mornings he takes advantage of first light, his favorite, and works on location. He then returns to Saugus Sunday afternoon, paintings in tow, to complete them at his small basement studio.
“If it wasn’t for the love of it, it would be exhausting,” he says, adding, “Everyone has something they have to do in life. I just keep painting whether anyone sees them or not.”
Exhibiting a lack of pretension, Mr. Buckley has a sense of irreverence and humor, which combined with genuine humility, makes him someone with whom you feel at ease. These same traits come across in his work, which is completely without artifice. His images are strikingly candid and visually straightforward. Unlike many local landscape artists, Mr. Buckley’s paintings animate the inanimate and convey a sense of ownership of highly recognizable Vineyard scenes. The paintings are wholly complete fragments, cut from the Vineyard cloth. They tend to portray the Vineyard more as a small community lost in time than as a beauty spot.
Mr. Buckley has been coming to the Vineyard since his college days, traveling here with his friends and his motorcycle. He notes that after graduating from the Art Institute of Boston, he got into the trades to make a living.
“Life got in the way,” he says. But he never abandoned his first love. His union job allowed him to put his three kids through school and buy his house on the Vineyard in 1998. His wife works as a waitress part time and stays on the Vineyard for the rest of the week, serving as babysitter for their one-year-old granddaughter Alexis.
The artist has shown his work around the Boston area and has participated in a few group shows here. He has been an exhibitor at the All Island Art Show in the Campgrounds for 12 years and is a regular contributor to Dragonfly Gallery’s annual Plein Air show. He was fortunate to grab a spot on the Chilmark Library schedule thanks to a cancellation.
“I’ve been waiting for the time and the place to put the paintings together, to get a general idea. I look at this as a chance to show a lot of work at one time and let them take it from there.” He did all the framing himself and he will keep his prices low (from around $200 to $500). He describes the opportunity to show his body of work as “A one shot deal. I gotta show everyone what I’ve got.”
His wife has been encouraging him for years to try to move the paintings, suggesting at times that he give them all away.
“My wife has been supportive,” he says. “She just wants me to get rid of them. They’re literally taking up space.” He plans to hold onto most of his earlier work, which is more surreal in nature and represents inner visions. He has many of these pieces hanging in his Saugus home.
Mr. Buckley’s style echoes the work of artists such Rousseau, with a looseness of proportion, perspective, and a slight flattening of vista, imparting an almost mythical feel to his subjects. A scene as identifiable as the Black Dog Tavern takes on new life and is imparted with the feel of an early village scene. Subtlety and detail are abandoned in favor of vibrant un-shaded color and striking sense of place.
The paintings are conspicuously devoid of human or animal life. A painting of State Beach features a line of patterned beach umbrellas casting circles of shade on nothing but sand. “It’s just kind of one-on-one with the picture – you and the subject matter.”
This freedom from distracting detail makes one focus on pattern and color, and enforces the theme of isolation and solitude. Mr. Buckley points out that when he heads out to paint at five or six in the morning, there’s generally no one around, but the desertion is also intentional.
In a striking picture of the Ocean Park gazebo on fireworks night, although the sky is lit up with a soft explosion of color, Mr. Buckley’s inspiration was the post-celebration feeling. “That [image] probably came from just being down there that night. The starkness of it all after everyone leaves.” A drivers-eye view of Bend in the Road Beach has the same feel of life-on-hold for a brief moment in time.
Mr. Buckley’s simplified style shows off the sophistication that one could expect from someone who’s been painting seriously for over 40 years. Despite the admiration and opportunities that the artist has enjoyed (one of his paintings was chosen for a Mass General Hospital calendar) Mr. Buckley still paints mostly for his own enjoyment. “People ask me, ‘Are you a professional artist?’” His reply: “I’m a continual painter and gatherer by nature. But my attitude has definitely changed. They shouldn’t be just sitting in my closet. They should be hanging on somebody’s wall.”
Artist’s Reception for Bill Buckley, 3–5 pm, Saturday, May 1, Chilmark Library. Show runs through May 21. Call the library at 508-645-3360 for more information.Gwyn McAllister, of Oak Bluffs, is a frequent contributor to The Times.