Mitch S. Billis knew at a young age that his future would be in art. His father, Mitch Billis, a successful plein aire painter, encouraged his artistic abilities at a young age. Upon graduating from high school in 1980, Mitch moved to Colorado to learn the foundry process and it was here that he completed his first bronze casting. He then returned to Kalispell, Montana to work in a bronze foundry. In 1983, Mitch again moved to Colorado to work for and study with Veryl Goodnight for four years, meeting many people influential to his art including Hollis Williford, George Carlson, and George Lundeen. It was at this time that Mitch began sculpting on a regular basis.
In 1987, Mitch returned home to Bozeman, Montana and began his own foundry, Northwest Art Casting, Inc. For twenty years Mitch ran a successful foundry. Mitch sold his foundry to his brother in 2010 to focus more on his own sculpting, yet he continues to oversee all of his own castings from molds through patinas.
Mitch has taken workshops from artists Stanley Bleifeld, Bruno and Paul Lucchesi, and Floyd Dewitt, among others. In July of 1999, and June of 2000, Mitch attended sculpting workshops in Fabbiano, Italy under the tutelage of Paul Lucchesi, formerly of the Art Students League in New York. While in Italy, Mitch discovered he enjoyed working with wet clay to produce his sculptures. One of these sculptures in particular, a toad fountain, was much admired by the local people and now resides in the town square of Fabbiano. Mitch has gained great knowledge by spending time amongst talented teachers, and has been inspired by being amongst some of the world’s greatest art.
Mitch has done private commissions in North Carolina, South Carolina, Colorado, Texas and Mexico. His sculpture is represented in galleries throughout the United States, including Maine, Colorado, Montana, and South Carolina.
In this blink of an eye we call a lifetime, we are all given the gift to leave something behind. My artwork is a reflection of how I view the world through my passions and experiences. I can only hope the joy of my creations is felt by all who encounter my work.
I find that my career as an artist has paralleled my life as a father. Prior to becoming a dad I would sculpt Wild West figures and animals that captured my imagination. I started sculpting children after I began having them because they continually inspired my creativity with their wondrous world. Since then I primarily create figurative sculpture that incorporates animals and children with a sense of childhood fantasy.
I am continually reaching out to my children as touchstones to bring out the child in myself. I recall walking in the Montana forests with my two children, and seeing how they embrace the mysteries of the woods. Watching them play with toads or delight in catching a fish brings me back to my youth and continually reconnects me with my own sense of wonder. As a boy, I was always fascinated with reptiles and amphibians, with their textures of shell and skin and their mysterious lives. I lived in Maine briefly during my youth, and although I could not wait to return to the mountains of Bozeman, Montana, I seemed to have brought a fascination with the ocean back with me. The secret world that might exist under the water, where one might discover a little girl astride giant carp, or a Merbaby off on an adventure with a giant sea turtle; this is a deep pool from which I draw my ideas.
My family has also inspired me to give back to the community. I worked on a sculpture project with my daughter’s fourth grade class. For a month I came in and taught sculpting to the children. They were excited and devoted to learning, even missing recesses to work on their projects. At the end of the month, I brought the sculptures to my foundries and cast them all in bronze. The experience was so rewarding for me, that I have done this project annually. Likewise, my mother was a kindergarten teacher for decades and was recognized by the state of Montana as Teacher of the Year. In her honor I completed a sculpture of a woman reading a book to a group of children for the Bozeman Public Library in Montana.
The things and people I love in my life inspire my sculpture. By portraying children in my work I can immortalize forever the childlike quality in them, and in me.