Born and raised in East Tennessee, Michael Arpino, possibly better known under his artistic project’s name “The Moth Flock,” is truly a homegrown artist.
“I take a lot of pride in my Appalachian heritage,” Arpino told ETEB this past week. “A significant portion of my family were mountain people from East Tennessee—you know, Scots-Irish. They were these stout, short, tough men with square chins who literally wrought their existence from the red clay beneath their feet. They also have a strong creative heritage as well, with music and with folk art. There’s really strong artistic tradition in this region that has played a really strong role with me.”
Arpino uses his regional inspiration to complete paintings, textile prints, and various other artistic endeavors under the name he has made for himself, which has gained him local, national, and international presence in the art industry.
Having sold his work to customers in 7 countries and 24 states within the US, Arpino’s growing brand, known as “The Moth Flock” on Etsy and Facebook, is sure to be only the beginning of an expanding career.
“I’ve always been involved in art when I was growing up,” Arpino said. “I was oil painting by the time I was four or five, not seriously, just kind of messing around. I grew up, went to college, and had several other passions that took the forefront in my life, like English briefly, and Psychology for a little bit, which is what I initially majored in at Maryville College. I actually wound up majoring in History, got my Bachelor’s of Arts in History, and only minored in Art.”
The true spark that relit the flame of Arpino’s childhood creativity, however, came from an introductory painting course taught by Dr. Carl Gombert of Maryville College. In this class, Arpino discovered his talent within the realm of portraiture, which ultimately led to exposure in the local artistic world.
“I did a couple of portraits for my friends, and I just sort of gave them away,” Arpino said. “After I graduated, I had the typical response of getting out of [college] and just not knowing what in the hell I was gonna be doing and realizing that this whole ‘career’ thing doesn’t just fall in your lap.
“This past summer, I had this almost spiritual awakening in a sense, where art became my lifeblood. I just started painting, and I started cranking out prints, I got into block-printing, and then I got into screen-printing, which has become my primary medium at this point. This is also when I discovered the six-eyed cat, the Hexacat as I call it.”
The Hexacat, the design that has become Arpino’s artistic identifier, serves as token of spiritual meaning in his personal life.
“I realized that I value creativity above almost all things, and I truly believe that creativity is the highest form of human self-actualization,” Arpino said. “If you think about it, once we’ve fulfilled all our basic needs, or even if those needs are unfulfilled, we still have a drive to create and to make our surroundings beautiful.”
This belief ultimately led to Arpino’s choice to pursue art as the primary function of his life.
“I try to succeed myself in not only living the most creative life possible, but I try to inspire others. It’s not so much that I want to see myself succeed in art, but I want to help everybody else fulfill their artistic ambitions as well. That, in turn, creates a cycle of inspiration where everyone gets inspired by everyone else. I want to facilitate that through my own art and just watch the creativity spread—it’s like creative philanthropy.”
While his popularity continues to grow with his increasing exposure through international and local clientele, Arpino certainly has succeeded in living a creative life.
“The Moth Flock” works include a hand-painted sign on the window of local US Highway 411 store Mike’s Electronic Cigarettes, along with various designs across a multitude of mediums that can be seen sported across the Blount County area.
Though loyal customers are sure to vouch for the value of his completed projects, Arpino’s style and process of actually creating his art may prove most interesting to potential customers.
“I more or less adamantly refuse to paint on canvas,” Arpino said. “I actually prefer to paint on wood because of the texture and the character of it, like the dents, and the burns, and the stains, and the fungi growing on it. It adds an interesting element to it. I just grab it out of dumpsters that I find. It’s recycling, which I’m sure everyone can agree is a good thing.
“It definitely affects the character of my art, because it’s all about the texture and the brushstrokes and the imperfections. If you look at a lot of my paintings, you’ll notice that there’s chunks missing from the edges, the edges are unfinished, you can see the wood grain poking through the paint, or there’s splinters, which I think is beautiful.”
Whatever imaginative projects Arpino develops, he has certainly begun to whittle his niche within a growing appreciative community.
“I’ll see my t-shirts or my patches or even my stickers turn up in surprising places, or people will come up to me and be like, ‘Hey, you’re the moth guy,’ or, ‘You’re the six-eyed cat guy.’ Which just tickles me to death because that’s a really good way to make new friends, I’ve found, which is one of the goals of all this, honestly.”
“The thing I want everyone to know is that if there’s an art medium out there you want to explore, by all means, do it,” Arpino said. “Don’t let your own self-imposed restrictions keep you from doing it. Jump in.”