See salmon, live salmon, paint salmon
When she looks back on her earlier works, Alaska Native painter Apayo Moore thinks her salmon look like snakes.
"I've come a long way," laughed Moore, 27, from her home in Dillingham.
Indeed she has.
Moore was born and raised in the Bristol Bay fishing community and has always been artistically inclined. It's hard not to be when she was surrounded by talented carvers, sewers and craftspeople all her life.
Back then, Moore would draw, taking direction from her dad who also liked to sketch, but it wasn't until college that she really began to see her own potential as a painter. It was her very first college painting class that she got the most out of, she said. And perhaps that's where she developed her style.
"My instructor focused on colors with oil paint and once I got the colors down I couldn't stop," she said.
Moore paints what she knows: salmon. Of course, she fills canvases with landscapes, seascapes, fishing vessels and the people of her community, but it's the salmon that are her signature.
In college, Moore, like the rest of the class, was asked to paint fruit; a test of painting still life perhaps, but for Moore it was an impossible and pointless task. And she told her teacher so. She told him of her home and asked if she paint that instead and he agreed.
"Being in the city just about killed me and so I would paint salmon and salmon streams because they're so gorgeous and because I was so homesick," Moore remembered.
Using acrylic paint on canvas, her distinct lines and bright colors make Moore's creations hard to turn away from. They are moving and elementary all at once. And though she plays down her gift, it becomes clear that painting is to Apayo Moore as salmon are to Bristol Bay - it's only natural.
"My style is bright energy in that ... it's always bright," she said "I'll try to do something low tone and then when I'm finished they'll be bright red in it and I'm like, 'How did that happened?'
"I just can't stay away from the bright colors, they always make me feel happy. When I'm looking at a painting, if it's too monotone, I'll add some color until I get a smile and them I'm like, 'Oh, I guess it's done now."
Her darkest painting, she said, is one called 'The Rape of Mother Earth.' She's had mixed reviews on it, but felt compelled to express her frustration about the Pebble Mine Project and its effects on her beloved Bristol Bay watershed. Moore has been frustrated and saddened by the potential of Pebble Mine for years and hopes that her works will inspire more to take a stand.
These days, Moore is a new mother, but caring for a newborn hasn't stopped her from creating. Later this month, Moore will begin work on two murals for the Southwest Region School District.
She started her career as a painter around 2005 when she painted an 8- by 12-foot mural on the side of Bristol Express. Last year, Moore painted over that original work with a new mural depicting the lifecycle of salmon; starting with Beluga chasing salmon upstream as they turn redder from decay, then eggs, then fry, then young ones swimming back out to sea. It's one of her favorites, she said.
Though Moore still calls painting "a hobby", she makes a living by selling pieces here and there. She does have a business plan for the future and is hoping to open a small gift shop/gallery in her basement this summer. Eventually she hopes to be able to buy art of all kinds of village artisans and sell them in Dillingham during the busy summer months. She also sells works through her Web site and Facebook page.
"I'm starting to now get to the point where I can make enough money to be more legit about my hobby," she said. "There are a ton of great carvers and artists in the villages but the only time they sell their stuff is in Anchorage at the Rondy or AFN," she said, adding that she feels like that part of her culture is dying. "Beaver Roundup used to be a really big thing but it's slowed down so artists haven't been coming here as much in the last few years. It's a real bummer."
But hopefully her idea of gathering pieces from all over the region to sell in one central location will give the community artists a boost.
Without the support and inspiration of her family and her community, Moore said she wouldn't be where she is today. Moore's family, community members in Dillingham and surrounding communities have been the catalyst for her growing success and she "wouldn't be as into painting without them," she said, adding that community members commissioned her to paint early in her career, even when she was a little unsure about her budding talent.
Living in the remote region of the state, Moore is often frustrated by the high cost of shipping and stretching canvas and she said it would be easier to just move to Anchorage to sell her work, but then she would miss out on the adventures she gets to experience in Bristol Bay.
"This is my inspiration," she said.
And though she occasionally uses scenic photographs or sketches taped to her canvas as a model, much of what she creates is from memory or first hand experience.
"My salmon don't look like snakes anymore."