Chili Thom was one of Canada’s preeminent landscape painters, with over 400 original pieces hanging in collections around the globe. Until his untimely death from cancer in 2016 at age 40, Chili lived in British Columbia’s Coast Mountains and pulled artistic inspiration from his time spent exploring the mountains, forests, and coastline of his home.
“Experience is an important part of my painting,” Chili said. “When I watch a sunset—all those super-saturated colours giving in to the dark of night—I want to condense the colours and the feeling of the whole experience and passage of time rather than just catch one specific instant.”
The linear brush strokes and deftly layered colours in Chili’s work helped him translate the motion and feeling of a landscape. He connected with the paintings of the Group of Seven—particularly Tom Thomson— and his most recent favourite artist was Alphonse Mucha, but the primary driving force of Chili’s art was the natural world—water, wind and, notably, snow.
“As a white, snow reflects any and every color. Plus, it forms more abstract shapes, or it can blow around. If you spend enough time in the backcountry you will see snow in almost every color and shape. Snow gives a lot of freedom.”
“Not a single colour goes onto my canvass without some tweaking,” Chili explained. “Anyone can paint straight from the tube.”
A trained wilderness guide, Chili originally turned to photography tried to capture the incredible landscapes and unique moments of natural beauty he would witness while exploring the mountains, forests, and coastlines of British Columbia.
“But I couldn’t get it,” he explained. “A photo captures a tiny sliver of a moment, but I wanted to get that feeling of being there for the entire sunset. The way the clouds move, or the wind blowing through. I found that by going back to painting I could bring a bit of the magic of spending time in nature back home with me.”
As his talent became more well known, Chili was able to retire from guiding and start adventuring solely for his own purposes (with a one-year stint as star/head guide of Wild At Heart, a television program that saw Chili take people with limited outdoor experience into some of British Columbias most heralded provincial parks).
Adventures to Mexico, Nicaragua, Ireland, and Europe inspired Chili with inspiring new natural vistas (particularly ocean waves) and styles to experiment with but his heart remained bound to his homeland of beautiful British Columbia.
“Chili’s paintings result from experiencing the outdoors in a way that only someone who has camped on top of a mountain in the middle of winter can have experienced,” says Adrian Raeside, an author, artist and syndicated cartoonist who was also one of Chili’s early collectors. “He uses colour to create a mood in ways that no other artist can pull off. After seeing a Chili landscape, you'll never look at nature the same again.”
But, Chili hoped, you will want to look at more of it.
High In The Mountains
with Chili Thom
Chili offset his time at the easel or out venturing in the wilds with a social enthusiasm that touched thousands. He was an accomplished DJ (check this mix of funky breaks), a renegade DIY filmmaker (and co-founder of Whistler’s infamous Heavy Hitting HorrorFest) , an event creator (he took on the role of Artistic Director of the Athlete’s Parade for the closing ceremonies of the 2010 Paralympic Games in Whistler, BC).
After he passed over to the other side, the community of Whistler honoured Chili’s legacy with The Chili Thom Experience, a 30-day, seven-venue celebration of his life and work highlighted by a Masterpieces exhibition at the prestigious Audain Art Museum. The event established
memorial scholarship fund to annually support young artists in all four communities of Chili’s Sea to Sky home turf (Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton, Mount Currie).
Chili’s family and friends continue to run his art business, ensuring fans around the globe can bring some of Chili’s unique perspective on the outdoor world into their homes and lives. As per Chili’s last wishes, all proceeds from art sales are held in trust for his daughter, who was three
years old when he passed, with annual donations to children’s art and nature preservation charities that were close to his heart.