Rhode Island Artist Chil Mott Captures “Sill” Life in Oils

Current series of insects look like blown-up photographs


When Chil Mott was in second grade, he drew a picture of a motorcycle during a math lesson. He based this little sketch on a Matchbox model propped on his desk. His teacher caught him, chastised him, and forbade Mott from going out to recess that day. But the young draftsman wasn’t deterred. “I was proud of how the drawing came out and showed it to my mother when I got home,” Mott recalls. “She was always encouraging.”

If only that teacher could see Mott now – a working artist who specializes in ultra-realistic paintings. For nearly 30 years, Mott has made his way as a musician, graphic designer, and illustrator, but his paintings are a particular point of pride: at first, each portrait looks like a blown-up photograph, so convincing are his brushstrokes.

“I can only go where I feel the image is best suited at this point,” he opines, “and so far it has been in the painstakingly slow process of poking around the areas of realism and blurred focus. Playing with the line where any two colors meet can occupy me for way too much time.”

Mott has a philosophic demeanor, and he has gathered diverse inspirations throughout his life. His father was an educator who shifted jobs often, and Mott’s childhood was spread out across every New England state. His mother introduced him to moody figurative painters like Andrew Wyeth and Winslow Homer. A high school art teacher exposed him to more fanciful artists like Jean Giraud and Roger Dean. Later, he would become an active punk musician in Providence and learned graphic design from his partner Gail Greenwood and her sister Betsy.

Meanwhile, Mott liked to explore the built and natural worlds. “As a kid I spent lots of time wandering the woods and around dumps and active building sites,” he says, “and ingested all sorts of printed images in schools and libraries that triggered my imagination and curiosity. I wanted to know how things grew, what lived in ponds, what birds ate, and how adults make houses.”

Mott is a prolific illustrator, but his more personal painting picked up about two years before the pandemic; he’s recently found himself busy with new works. While his online sketchbook showcases many different styles and subjects, from a knobby gourd to pensive faces, Mott’s major preoccupation is dead insects, a series entitled Sill Life. He specializes in “oil glazing,” which requires many layers of both colored and transparent paint and results in a glossy, photographic finish.

These eerie entomological portraits started with a single wasp, which lay lifeless in Mott’s Middletown home. He has since completed dozens more, and with each new piece, the crumpled exoskeletons of bees and houseflies take on new, well, life.

“Everything in the natural world interests me,” says Mott. “The Las Vegas-based art critic David Hickey has a great quote about appreciating the levitating tigers of Siegfried and Roy and the portraits of Raphael for what they are – songs of mortality sung by prisoners of time. Since insects have such short lifespans, they make a great exclamation point to this concept. It seems as if the insects themselves have a better understanding of this notion than we humans currently show.”

Similarly, Mott’s black-and-white sketches reflect this appreciation for the ephemeral world.

“One of the beautiful things about drawing is that if something piques your interest, even for a second, you can just grab any implement and get an immediate conversation going with the marks that you make,” he says. “Instant satiation. And there’s no wrong way to do it.” Learn more at ChilMott.com



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