The Block Islander

Capturing an Island of Color and Light

After spending time in the LA art world, painter Bill Padien came to Block Island and never looked back


Bill Padien understands the balance of life, work and art. On a course from east to west to east, Block Island called him back to paint scenes unchanged for generations. For Bill, the island is a daily inspiration amidst bustling seasonal demands of time, energy and patience; his expressions of land and water begin when summer ends.

After graduating from URI and the OTIS Art Institute/Parsons School of Design, Bill was hired in 1981 as assistant curator at Los Angeles’ Gemini G.E.L. From day one he was introduced to exploratory artists at the iconic fine art printmaking studio and workshop. Conversations were inspirations; even so many years later he recalls all their names without pause. After eight years, Bill moved to Manhattan, then to Block Island, with his easel, pursuing new opportunities in color. “The light on Block Island is completely different from the light in L.A.,” he says. He tended bar, married and painted.

“I painted like crazy,” he says with a laugh. The island’s magnificent light changes over time, sliding over stones and walls, and helped Bill explore the union of land with sea behind fields of second-cut hay, slumping dunes tanning beneath a late-day sun, tilting barns and stands of Spartina. Each painting of Bill’s asks the viewer to see everything – not simply tall grasses or block shapes but concepts of a total experience.

For six years Bill served on the zoning board and for seventeen on the school committee. For twenty, he’s owned The Post Office Bagel Shop in busy Bridgegate Square, baking in the traditional manner. Through the high season, canvases go untouched as summer does not allow for the focus and emotional commitment Bill’s art requires. Creating is deeply personal, and finding space to develop visions is just as much of a challenge. He’s painted among his growing children, alone in a cold basement, in the late Mary Newhouse’s Sea Breeze Gallery.

“I’ve been playing with color, playing with size,” Bill says. “I’m working on three, four, five, sometimes more.” Longtime friend and artist Ellsworth Kelly remains an inspiration. “He talked about color and seeing; he would draw that negative space.” Today, Bill Padien’s art balances relationships of light, color and space, so that we can experience his joy of life on Block Island. “That’s why I moved here,” he says.