By Abbie Digel, Explorebigsky.com Contributor
Bronze sculptor and painter, Mitch Billis, has lived on and off in Bozeman since 1967. Billis’s shop and studio, Northwest Art Casting, is in Bear Canyon, outside of Bozeman. His work is displayed nationally, in Vail and Aspen Colo, and Charleston, S.C., and also locally in Bozeman at Planet Bronze, the Last Windup, at Bogert Park and in front of the public library, and in Big Sky at Charsam Gallery.
From the artist
I moved to Montana in 1967 when I was in kindergarten. My father taught at MSU in the math department. He loved to hunt and fish. We then moved to Maine, where I graduated high school, and came back to Montana shortly after.
I went to Kalispell in 1980 and worked at the Powell bronze foundry for two years, lived in Colorado for four years where I worked for a sculptor, and in 1987 moved back to Bozeman and opened Northwest Art Casting. I owned it for 20 years, and then sold it to my brother and coworkers who work with me. I still have my studio there.
I spend a lot of time in the mountains fishing, hunting, snow biking and dirt biking with my friends. I enjoy fishing the best, and tying flies.
I have five children and am greatly influenced by them. Now they are grown up so I’m branching into new territory, but I had to sculpt all of them at one time or another. I have three grandkids, who will be my next models. They say things like, ‘No really, when are you going to sculpt me grandpa?’
My father is also an oil painter, and I grew up with his influence. I’ve always been fascinated with three-dimensional forms and the movement that goes into it. I met [many] artists when I was in high school, and studied sculpture in Italy a few times.
I start with drawings of the models, do small studies of what I’m going to make, and use that to go by. I make a miniature with wax before I do a bigger one with clay, then make them bigger. It takes three months to a year to finish a project.
I use the lost wax method, [where] the foundry takes the artist’s originals, makes rubber molds, and then the artist orders the bronze, pours a wax replica, and pours a molten bronze to take the place of the wax.
I try to bring the kid out in all of us. I want to capture a moment, bring a smile to people’s faces. My work will [eventually] sit in a children’s hospital to bring happiness and joy into peoples lives.
Right now I’m doing plaques. I will have those at the Art Walk, too. They are more Montana oriented with wildlife scenes. I’m doing some wolves right now, bighorn sheep, elk, and a couple different pieces with bison.
My art is a healthy way to express myself. It’s a way of venting. If I don’t sculpt for a while or do something artistic, I don’t feel complete. I also want to share that with people and bring joy into their lives.
I like to be able to exaggerate the right things, create the forms that move. The human form is the most difficult to capture, because everybody knows people, and it’s hard to get that right—that’s the challenge I enjoy.
My hands are beginning to get tired. I want to start dabbling with oil painting. I paint a little bit, and take a few pointers from my father. When he comes to visit [from Maine] we paint and fish together.
This is the last in a three-part series featuring artists showcasing their work at the fourth Big Sky Meadow Village Art Walk, July 7-8. Stroll the Art Walk on a self-guided tour while enjoying refreshments and summer weather. Be sure to stop by and meet the artists themselves.