APAK: Pastel Playlands

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Working under the name APAK, husband-and-wife team Aaron and Ayumi Piland’s super-adorable art pieces reflect their youthful outlook, love of nature, and all-encompassing affection for one another. They met back in 1997, when Ayumi was working at a Japanese restaurant–for just three days–and Aaron came in to cop some sushi. “Ayumi poured tea for Aaron while he ate, secretly checking each other out,” they recount in the third person. A natural bond formed after discovering they were both studying illustration at Kendall College of Art & Design in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The pair began making plush toys and eventually started painting together, playing to their strengths by having Aaron create environments for Ayumi’s creatures to frolic in. What results are friendly-looking faraway lands, rendered in pastel and neon, populated by organisms both real and imagined. “For us making art is a small but real way of creating positive change,” they confess. “We all have the power to create the kind of world we want to live in.”

In 2005, APAK settled in a red cottage on the outskirts of Portland and met Bwana Spoons, who introduced them to the area’s thriving gallery scene. They have since become integral to this group of self-starting artists, showing their work at venues like Grass Hut, Together Gallery, and Pony Club. It makes sense that APAK’s aesthetic thrives in the Rose City, since they are heavily influenced by the natural world: “Stars, planets, trees, bugs, flowers, fire, and crystals are pretty much masterpieces to us,” they say, via email. This viewpoint is echoed by their personal brand of pop surrealism, constructed using materials that won’t harm the planet, such as paper, clay, sticks, yarn, fabric, felt, and live plants. No matter what medium Aaron and Ayumi are working with, their childlike perspective comes across. “Maybe growing up with the idealism and creativity of the ’80s has something to do with it,” they offer.

Aaron and Ayumi are fitting playmates. “We pretty much do everything except go to the bathroom together,” they say. “We are together so much that we can read each others’ minds.” As if reality wasn’t sweet enough, the two also have alter egos, the Happy Hermits–a tiny orange monster and a tiny yellow monster who roam woodland areas gathering cupcakes, feeding birds, and playing tennis while merrily enjoying each other’s company. Sometimes the couple paints the Hermits, sometimes they sculpt them, sometimes they sew them into plush toys–and sometimes they realize that the line between reality and fantasy is more than a little blurry…

Favorite Portland artist:
Justin “Scrappers” Morrison, Bwana Spoons, Martin Ontiveros, Le Merde, Evan Harris, Jill Bliss, Amy Ruppel, Hooliganship, Mumbleboy, E*Rock, Yacht, Betsy Walton, and the list keeps growing–it seems like there is another artist moving to town everyday!