If you’re lucky, you may very well spot Billy Montella, Jr. in real life. From his Warwick home, he takes regular trips to East Greenwich, where he’ll walk the shore and shipyards in search of something to paint. When he finds his muse, Montella sketches the scene with charcoal. Slowly but surely, he’ll add layers of pigment, until the landscape is complete, usually about three weeks later.
“When you paint from a photograph, you’re painting a flat image,” says Montella. “You don’t feel the atmosphere.”
This kind of discipline has kept Montella healthy and youthful. The artist won’t reveal his age, but he’s older than you’d think. And he inherited his creative genes from a long line of artists: His paternal ancestors were sculptors. He’s related to the acclaimed Rhode Island artist Antonio Cirino. Three of Montella’s uncles attended RISD, as did his father and two cousins. His father was a respected jeweler, who crafted in the art deco style and had an agent in New York.
“When Hollywood needed a special piece [of jewelry] for a movie,” remembers Montella, “they would get referred to my dad.”
You would never guess, spotting Montella on the coast with his charcoal stick and canvas, that the man grew up in Federal Hill, was friendly with mafia grunts, and created an Impressionist painting of Manhattan in the sixth grade – which won a national award and was hung in Washington, DC. Indeed, Montella’s life is saturated in wild stories: How he played hockey for years, how he taught high school for decades, how he studied architecture, then dropped out to care for his father after a debilitating stroke, then cared for his mother after her stroke. His family lore dates back to the Renaissance, when his ancestor Taddeo Taddei was patron to both Raphael and Michelangelo and commissioned a stone relief called Taddei Tondo.
Through it all, Montella has painted and sculpted hundreds of landscapes and portraits, rendered in a traditional style. His many sculptures include a portrait of a US Coast Guard Academy commander and a bust of songstress Laura Nyro. Montella has shown his work across Rhode Island and all over the world; he’s an inducted member of the National Arts Club and the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts.
Despite his gregarious personality, Montella lives a private life. He has neither a website nor social media. If you want to reach him, you have to write to his email address. His daily life is a monkish routine, just as it’s been for years.
“Each morning, I get up and have my coffee,” says Montella. “I go to work. I walk and I walk. And I look.” For commission or to see Montella’s portfolio, write to him at BillyBoyJr@live.com.
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