“I spent a lot of time in the wilderness in my late teens and twenties,” said Moab-based artist Pete Apicella. “I was suspicious and confused by our modern world, and I found more peace out in nature. I liked the feelings of freedom and beauty that canyon country evoked within me.”
Originally from New York City, Pete has lived full-time in Moab since 2004. He is perhaps more commonly known around town as PiMo, short for “Pete in Moab,” the on-air name he adopted as a volunteer DJ at the local radio station, KZMU, where he hosted a funk, world music, jam, and electronica show called Radio Moondial. “When I first introduced myself live, that’s what came out of my mouth in some sort of quasi-cool radio voice way,” PiMo said. “I never intended for the DJ name to leak into my daily life, but over time people just started calling me that on the street, so I’m kinda stuck with it.”
PiMo and I met on a stretch of Moab’s Millcreek Parkway, a path for pedestrians, bicyclists, and other non-motorized travelers that runs more or less parallel to the riparian corridor of Mill Creek. A section of the Parkway runs through a tunnel under 300 South that is filled with vibrant murals PiMo created, or facilitated, with approval and funding from Moab City. These “Prismatic Funscapes,” as he calls them, are in PiMo’s signature style: bright colors, bold lines, a mix of images both abstract and concrete, surreal and full of whimsy. Themes of nature, and especially the redrock country of southeastern Utah, surface frequently.
In 2010, PiMo was the Community Artist for the Southeast Utah Group of National Parks: Arches, Canyonlands, Hovenweep, and Natural Bridges. His work was showcased by the Parks, and he did live demonstrations and discussions on landscape-inspired art. It wasn’t a paying gig, though he was able to make some money selling prints of his work. PiMo questioned why he wasn’t being directly compensated when he was creating content and helping to generate revenue for the Parks. It was just one example of the difficulty many artists face making ends meet.
“Bankers get together and talk about art. Artists get together and talk about money. I heard that from another jaded artist,” he said with a smile and a laugh. But PiMo said he doesn’t feel preoccupied with money; he lives frugally and, other than a big black cat, doesn’t have dependents. “Artists get ‘paid’ in non-standard ways,” PiMo opined. “Internally you generate soul food, and externally you get scene cred and status, plus the art itself enriches a space it inhabits.”
PiMo wrapped up his time as Community Artist feeling “psyched.” Then he was hit, out of the blue at age 37, with a life-threatening aneurysm that struck in the middle of the night. He pulled through relatively quickly, but with lingering side effects, and with a new perspective on his own mortality: “I can die at any time randomly. I now feel more compelled to make more significant art before I’m gone.”
As his reputation as an artist grew, he was commissioned to do several higher-profile murals, such as a 2016 portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt at the Moab Valley Multicultural Center, part of a collaborative series depicting nine peace warriors.
He also started talking to the City of Moab about doing some murals along the Mill Creek Parkway. Working with Meg Stewart, Moab City’s Arts and Special Events Manager, and after doing two initial, smaller murals, PiMo was tasked with doing three more visible personal murals (which were “all PiMo”) and two community murals, which incorporated volunteer community members into the painting itself, working within artistic parameters that PiMo set. The community mural project was completed in April of this year.
“The painting of a (community) mural is an event,” PiMo said. “You get music, pizza, lots of people involved. It’s like a one day festival. Throw it up—Boom! Big splash of color. And locals can take some pride; ‘Yeah, I had a part in that.’”
PiMo does see an irony here: that artists who contribute to neighborhood beautification can wind up being priced out of that same area.
“‘Local muralist gentrifies himself out of the community,’ I want that to be an ironic headline in the local real estate magazine,” PiMo said.
But, in the end, PiMo sees way more positive than not in the public art he creates.
“We turned this space into a fun zone,” he said. “It didn’t have to happen at all, but we defied the odds.”
A video about PiMo’s mural projects is available on YouTube.
Pete’s landscape prints and sculpture work can be purchased through Moab Made.
You can also see his work on his personal Facebook page and send him a Facebook message if you’d like to buy or commission something directly.