In the artist’s words, “I didn’t choose painting. Painting chose me. In 1973, I was a tenured mathematics professor at Montana State University and had begun painting as a hobby. That summer I attended a painting workshop. Within ten minutes of watching an established artist demonstrate I knew I was meant to be a painter. A year and a half later I resigned and begin to paint full time.”
Mitch Billis was born and brought up in Frankfort, a small, primarily Italian town in upstate New York. He and his parents lived in an apartment connected to the bar his father ran and where he spent most of his time eating meals, sitting in a booth drawing, or doing chores, including, beginning in his his early teens, tending bar. Basketball got him a scholarship to attend engineering school, and the curse of being good in mathematics got him fellowships which led to a PhD and eleven years of college teaching before he quit to become an artist.
During the summer of his fifth year of teaching at Montana State University, Mitch attended a workshop given by Valfred Thelin, watercolorist from Maine. After five minutes of watching him paint, he knew that was what he wanted to do with his life. He resigned a year and a half later, studied briefly with Don Stone, became a nationally known watercolorist (accepted in the American Watercolor Society show three times) and then switched to oils. He was invited to become a founding member of the Northwest Rendezvous Group and has been invited to and won prizes in many national shows. Mitch has shown in some of the best galleries in the west, including Trailside in Jackson, Scottsdale and Carmel. Once he moved to Maine, his material changed and he sold most of his work in the east.
Mitch Billis sees himself as an explorer, constantly searching for meaning in his life and in art. Paraphrasing Robert Henri’s words in “The Art Spirit”, Billis says, “The purpose of doing a painting is not really to do that painting, it’s to attain a state of being, and that’s what I try and do daily in my life.” For this impressionist, the journey supercedes the arrival.