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Times-Picayune: Fantastical Camp Street mural was kind of caused by Jimmy Buffett

The artist known as MOMO paints a 93-foot-tall mural on the side of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art (Photo by Doug MacCash, | The Times-Picayune)

If Jimmy Buffett hadn’t opened one of his Margaritaville restaurants in the French Quarter, then a young muralist now known as MOMO wouldn’t have been sent to New Orleans to paint the place and years later, after becoming world-famous, MOMO might not have created the mind-blowing 93-foot tall masterpiece mural on the wall the Ogden Museum of Art at 925 Camp St.

MOMO is the most famous New Orleans-based artist you’ve never heard of. His marvelous outdoor abstractions are scattered in prime spots around the globe, from the Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park California, to the World Trade Center in New York, to the Miami Dolphins’ Hard Rock Stadium, to walls in Portugal, Belgium, England, Italy, and Australia. MOMO answered questions for this story via email from Lyon France where he is preparing for a gallery exhibit.

Despite his globe-circling success, he’d never painted a major signature mural in New Orleans. Until now.

MOMO was born in San Francisco, he moved to New Orleans in 2001 to help with the decorating of the Margaritaville restaurant expansion on Decatur Street (now defunct) and has split the years since here and in New York. He’s never produced a mural in New Orleans because, he said, “it’s been very nice to come home tired and just enjoy friends as friends, without mixing career into anything.”

Before he became a street art star, MOMO said he was the classic Crescent City starving artist, daydreaming over coffee and pancakes at the bygone Hummingbird Inn not far from the site of the nine-story Ogden mural. MOMO said he’s had his eye on the big Ogden wall for years.

“It struck me as one of the best walls in town, and already in an arts district, and so I was a bit obsessed with it,” he said.

But MOMO’s obsession remained unrequited until the Helis Foundation funded five enormous outdoor paintings in downtown New Orleans. The Ogden mega-painting is the first of the “Unframed” murals, which are being overseen by the Arts Council and should be done by early summer. Each mural is projected to cost between $20,000 and $25,000.

The sites of the murals, which will cost between $20 and $25 thousand dollars, has not been announced.

MOMO said the mural is his most ambitious to date. “This painting has more colors and halftones than any mural I’ve ever done anywhere and that’s because it’s a gift, for everyone that ever helped me here, has been inspiring here, the great people and community and city,” he said.

The painting is an optical playground that combines summery cloud-like shapes, with angular slashes of brilliant snowball syrup color, all textured with a pattern of incredibly meticulous seersucker stripes that makes the whole Ogden buzz with optical interference like an old-fashioned television screen.

MOMO doesn’t ascribe any particular meaning to his meticulous paintings. He prefers that onlookers dream up their own interpretations.

“There’s no theme,” he said. “People have asked ‘what’s the theme?’ I guess this is question comes from public art often functioning as monuments to some shared value or figure or theme which everyone can agree on. But this is just a painting.”

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