Faces of West County: Art Moura

Photo and Interview by Steve Einstein, Sonoma West Times & News, March 21, 2021

Art is quite a character. A sweet, inventive and talented character.

He is someone who stands out a bit among us, at the check-out line at the hardware store, at the art supply store, or just taking his garbage out to the street. It’s not just Art’s distinctive billy-goat-like beard. It’s the whole quirky guy.

He’s the sort of guy who hasn’t met an old wooden table leg, or a broken ax handle, that he can’t make into a piece of art.

Let’s meet him.

Where and when were you born, Art?

San Jose, in ’53. I’m 67.

Where’s your family from?

All four of my grandparents came from the Azore Islands. (They are due west of Portugal). They all came at the turn of the century. I’ve been back to the Azores once looking for distant family.

When and how did you get here to the west county?

It was back in 2000. My wife at the time, Thalia, had a cousin up here, and we figured it was a good place to bring up our two kids.

Aja, our daughter, still lives around here. (In fact, Aja called Art a few times during our conversation. She’s working on a video that is going to be a part of an upcoming art exhibit of Art’s later this Spring.)

Where is home?

Sebastopol is now, but it was the Salinas Valley growing up. My dad was a dairy worker. We’d move every few years. Dad had a drinking problem. Let’s just say that that was disruptive.

I grew up with two sisters, and a half sister who I discovered later. Two are still alive.

You’re a very devoted artist. Everything you do is artistic. It’s clearly your passion and life’s work. Can you support yourself with art?

I was an electronic technician for 35 years, but art has been my outlet for a long time. When I was much younger, like six, my mother said she saw the artist in me. As a teenager, I frequently got into trouble. I used art to steer myself away from drugs.

Did drugs sneak into your life anyhow?

Yeah, drugs crept in. But it was also part of the age that we grew up in, even in Salinas. Speed, acid and beyond. It probably influenced my art, then and now.

You showed me your studio that is just crammed with your pieces, large and small, but in general, you don’t promote your stuff. No Art Trails, no online presence, no brochures.

That’s true, but actually, I’m going to have a show in Healdsburg at the Hammerfriar Art Gallery later this spring. I’m pretty excited about that.

Your art frequently seems voodoo-like, or has this mystical/magical essence to it. What’s that about?

I like African and oceanic art, but I really don’t want to appropriate those styles. On the other hand, I can’t deny that they are present in my stuff.

Do you support yourself with your art?

I rent out most of my house. No way could I just survive on Social Security and the little I bring in selling art … But I’m not money driven. It’s art that drives me. That’s where my satisfaction comes from. People appreciating my work is a big deal for me. Being paid for it is great, but it’s not the point.

What happened to the art car you used to drive around town? (It was the one with lots of ghost-like figures adorning it.)

Yeah, no more. It got destroyed in a demolition derby at the fairgrounds a few years ago. I like to say that it went out fighting. (Art laughs.)

How has COVID impacted your work and life?

I’m more isolated than I was before, but I was never a big socialite. I like people. I have friends. I still see some of them. But COVID has made life so much less spontaneous. I’m getting my first shot tomorrow.

I got Hector, my dog, in February of ’20 from Muttville. (A shelter and rescue for senior dogs.) Then the virus hit, and I got worried that old Hector had finally found a good home, but that he’d need another one after my COVID-related demise. I really didn’t want to be another bad luck event in Hector’s life. It’s silly, but that’s what I was feeling.

Do you feel like you’re about to get freed, having the vaccine in you?

Oh yeah.

Do you trust the vaccine?

Well, more than not getting it, so I guess I do. But the variants are going to be with us for years. Maybe forever?

This is a weird time. If I were younger, I’m not sure I’d want to bring children into this world. But who knows? Maybe we’ll get it together.

Are your kids interested in having kids?

My son is 26. Concern about climate change influences his desire to be a parent, but he’s not in a place to do that anyhow right now. I think our daughter has kids on her radar, but I think climate change has lots of people like her questioning it.

Tell us something we wouldn’t have guessed about you.

Well, I drove a tractor off a small cliff when I was just nine. I was helping by father move sprinklers, and then headed for the edge of the road which collapsed. The next thing I knew, I was waking up from under a tractor. My mom says I limped all summer, but that was about it for me. They never used that tractor again.

And I worked at a local water buffalo dairy out in Tomales last year. It felt like a loop back to my childhood, in a good way.

Hey Art, thanks for sitting with us. And good luck with that show up in Healdsburg.

Though the dates of Art’s show aren’t clear yet, The Hammerfriar Art Gallery is at 132 Mill St. in Healdsburg. 707-473-9600.

If Art had an extra $20, he’d send it to: Muttville Senior Dog Rescue  255 Alabama St. San Francisco, 94103    415-272 4172

This article was produced by Sonoma West Times & News, the hometown newspaper of Sebastopol and west county since 1889. See more news at sonomawest.com