Pete Apicella wants to bring out your inner child.
Apicella, otherwise known as “PiMo” (for “Pete in Moab”), would love for you to feel childlike joy and wonder as you ponder his colorful, somewhat surrealistic landscape murals along the Mill Creek Pathway.
His nearly completed Rainbow Row spans the Main Street bridge and its concrete support walls. He is racing the clock to finish it before winter fully arrives.
“One thing that’s been great about working with these murals is there’s a lot of interactivity with the public,” Apicella said. “You see the people on the path … I made a point to slow down and talk to these people, talk to people more, because once this project’s done, I’ll be painting by myself again.”
All of Apicella’s murals along the trail are sponsored by the City of Moab, specifically by the Moab Arts & Recreation Center (MARC).
“We knew that we wanted more murals in town,” said Meg Stewart, manager of arts and special events for the City of Moab. “We are very lucky to collaborate with an artist like PiMo who is dedicated to helping us jump-start the creation of vibrant public art in Moab.”
Apicella hopes to see a Moab mural walk develop over the next 20 years.
“The sight becomes a destination, not something to pass through,” he said. “I’ve spent time in other parts of the world where there are murals on bridges. You see what’s possible, you get inspiration from others.”
Rainbow Row’s pièce de résistance is on the bridge itself: elongated, horizontal stripes of color representing Arches National Park’s Landscape Arch as well as a rainbow. Apicella’s style is vibrant, somewhat surrealistic and sprinkled with humor.
“Landscape Arch’s shape is almost exactly proportional to the shape of [this] bridge,” he said. “My stuff has a youthful quality to it. (Art) can be used to convey intense emotions, but the angle I’m going for is fun.”
Mountain Mojo is just a short distance away, on the 300 South bridge and its concrete support walls. This landscape piece has scenes of spring, summer and autumn.
“People really love the aspens,” Apicella said. “There are subliminal and overt messages in the bark. I got to play with the geometry but sometimes put in figures. People get stoked. That is one of the best things about doing this work. Once there was a gray wall and now people look at it and say, That’s so cool.”
“I like to pepper the scenes with little creatures that intersect with this dimension, (such as a Sasquatch inside a copse of painted trees),” Apicella said.
When he encountered graffiti, he often covered it with a surrealistic, colorful patch. If the graffiti had “higher art content,” he preserved it as is.
The joyful quality of his murals belies the physical dangers he has dealt with while creating them. He has had to stand in the icy Mill Creek. Apicella has endured rain and strong winds that blast him with sand and loose leaves, threatening to topple him and his ladder.
“I call it ‘work art’ instead of ‘art work’ because there’s a lot of traditional, tedious, repetitive (things like climbing) up and down ladders (and) moving objects around,” he said. “It’s painting a wall. The rapture and mystical download is only a fraction of the time.”
Apicella’s 2010 surgery to clip a brain aneurysm has left him with intense migraines that have sometimes kept him from painting.
Why does he press on under these conditions?
“Moab doesn’t have a large street-art culture,” he said, pointing out that Moab has a lot of blank walls but very few murals. “If you bring a high art content to what you’re doing, not only can you get permission (from the city), but everyone is psyched about it. (I’m) just trying to do my small part to make the world better.”
Apicella has also created many smaller works. Moab Made carries his landscape prints, cards and found-object salvage sculptures. He painted the “dogoglyph” panel at the Kokopelli Lodge and the Eleanor Roosevelt panel at the Moab Valley Multicultural Center. Large compositions are his current focus.
“I want to go to Colorado and do mountain scenes in fancy mountain towns,” he said. “It would be cool to have a Scooby-Doo mobile and have three or four of us to go around the Four Corners and the West, painting murals, turning drab gray walls into fun places, you know?”
What’s next for Apicella and Moab in 2018? More murals. And maybe reproductions of his larger works.
“Public art and street art is the highest level of art,” he said. “It is part of the habitat, it’s not overly formulated and curated.” He feels that Moab should stay “funky as it gentrifies, (remaining) gritty and free-spirited. Art doesn’t have to exist, but the fact that it does is an aspect of hope, of saying yes instead of saying no.”
Apicella invites the public to join him in creating an abstract and kinetic mural on Saturday, April 7, 2018, in the tunnel at 300 South. Live music is planned, and with any luck, some pizzas will be donated.