New York street artist Momo is known for his large paper pieces typically found on or near construction site scaffolding that provide him with a large flat wooden surface to paste up his colorful creations.
His latest project took place in the unlikely town of Key West in the Florida Keys. The veteran street paster decided to work with locals on a one-on-one basis to create art works that would be integrated into their lives and bring what was normally a public piece of art into a very private domain, the home. Key West’s The Citizen newspaper described the project as “art for the masses.”
The resulting works are brash, dazzling, and luminous. They integrate a digitally informed playfulness and look back to an idealized version of Florida design as much informed by Miami Vice as South Beach deco. I interviewed Momo via email about his Key West project.
Hrag Vartanian: Why did you choose Key West?
Momo: Actually I came at it backwards; knowing some people there, and hence hanging around a bit, I knew of the local TSKW [The Studios of Key West] arts residency, and proposed this as a project. Key West is a fascinating place and mostly for its people. I hoped this project would get at them directly; locals might steal the show and my art could be just an excuse.
HV: How did you choose the people you created art for?
M: I arrived with a crude metric to keep things as diverse as possible, hoping for the most democratic representation. The art crowd was easy to win over, but others deserved more time, like you’d guess. My main interest was in seeing art where it doesn’t belong, so the harder won became more appealing. Usually the issue was renters not wanting to cause trouble with a landlord. I think this could be worked around with enough time, but I had just two months, so I came up short, by my reckoning. I mention in the documentation, “as a project, it’s incomplete, but as an open ended inquiry, we’ve taken one step, learned some things, and had a good time.”
HV: How much was their input important and what role did it play?
M: Residents had minimal say. I wanted to try one kind of art work against a changing context. Painting on request would be a different thing. The point here was everybody takes a chance.
HV: How was this process different from creating street art?
M: At first I thought the work should be exactly the same (size/material) as some street pieces I’ve done. But then I realized there’s lots I’d like to try, like airbrush, and painting. So I pursued the same things as ever, but let technique and level of polish grow a little too. A big drag was needing to set schedules with people, to get in and out of their houses. I’m not really gifted for that sort of thing.
HV: Were there any surprises for you in what ended up coming out? Did you find that your work adapted to the light and style of the place?
M: Surprises. Everything takes so long to do. Best compositions “violently” “oppose” the space, even indoors in a residential setting. Someone disliked a shape I was using, said it looked like a spent condom. Though I wasn’t going to cave to each resident’s whims, I made a small concession, and changed it. It really was a condom in my mind also.
I hoped my work would absorb a tropical feeling. I came across a David Hockney book in the local library, and really felt the tropical sensuality he had in his pictures. I’ve also spent most my adult life in the South, so it’s like my reserve life-thing I know, love, return for.
I’m not sure people get the project. As someone who has made “street” art for 11 years, it was exciting for me to try to fool its meaning. It seems to me there’s some fertile ground; to play with the significence, value, and place of artwork, without always needing to sell it in “street” context, for easy understanding.
It’s funny to me how the growth in interest in “street” art has locked-in a meaning for something that essentially breaks rules. Like when I first got into aerosol graffiti in the late 90s I found there were all these entrenched rules and definitions, and that seemed funny, how a group of outlaws would define themselves with new laws.
More photos of Momo’s Key West murals here.