Artist Warren Gaines has the Island as his muse

"Overlooking Menemsha," oil. — Warren Gaines

As an artist, Warren Gaines has a very special connection to the scenes he paints. For the past 30 years, the Vineyard native has been working for the Edgartown shellfish department. As a shellfish warden and aquaculturist, Gaines spends his days working on the ponds and beaches of the Island. “I’m on the water all the time,” he says. “I love the shoreline. Almost everything I paint has water in it.”

A sampling of the artist’s work, now on display at the M.V. Film Center’s Feldman Family Art Space, clearly displays Gaines’ love of the water. The six paintings hanging in the theater’s lobby represent scenes from around the Island.

Gaines’ work tends to be colorful and full of life. A bird’s-eye view of Menemsha Harbor features a verdant landscape, crisp blue water, and the bright orange trim on a fishing boat. “Gay Head Reflective Light Sunset” plays with the colors of the Cliffs, dune grass, bright blue sea, and sky in a very vibrant way, while the painting “Edgartown Yacht Club” contrasts crisp images of the buildings along the harbor with their shimmering reflections. “I love reflections in the water — of sailboats and other things,” says the artist.

However, the quiet moments also inspire Gaines. “You look for something that moves you in some way or another,” he says. “It’s either the drama in the scene or, oftentimes for me, it’s the serenity.”

“Full Moon Rising over Katama Bay” is a perfect example of the latter. A long view of marshland, water, and sky evokes a feeling of quiet introspection. “Lucy Vincent Cliffs Exposed” was painted before that iconic landmark was forever changed when part of the cliffs collapsed due to erosion in 2014. Both of these nature scenes have a timeless quality to them.

Gaines switches back and forth between oil and pastel, and examples of each can be found in the exhibit. “I like to use pastels if I’m looking for a soft picture, where I can blend the colors,” he says. “Other times I want to work on details.”

The artist and his wife, photographer and painter Debra Gaines, share a studio and gallery in Edgartown. As a team, they also show their work regularly at the Vineyard Artisans Festival and the Chilmark Flea Market. The couple have been a fixture at both ever since their respective beginnings.

Gaines was born and raised on the Vineyard. He’s been working for the shellfish department since his high school days. The Gaineses met in the 1980s, although Warren knew Debra’s mother, who was a game warden on the Island, before the couple actually met. Since then they have formed a very successful partnership.

Although he had always dabbled in drawing, Gaines jump-started his artistic career by taking classes at Featherstone. Inspired by his experience with the Vineyard-based arts organization, he continued his studies with classes at Rhode Island School of Design.

Both Debra and Warren have become well-known and respected members of the Vineyard arts scene, and their shared love of the Vineyard is evident in all the work that they do. Although in his role as shellfish warden, he primarily works the waters of the down-Island towns, Gaines, with his wife, explores the entire Island in search of inspiration.

“In our time off we often head up-Island,” says Gaines. “We both love the water and the Vineyard landscape. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.”

Gaines’ work will be on display at the M.V. Film Center’s Feldman Family Art Space through Feb. 23.