Kelsey Montague toiled in the artistic trenches for years before this moment. In an interview for Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, Kelsey spoke about rejections from art gallery after art gallery and how she finally decided to create her own artistic path. Like many of us, she avidly followed the dark political work of artists like Banksy and Shepard Fairey but Kelsey wanted to make her own statement, something positive and uplifting.
Kelsey painted her first set of wings on a New York City corner in Nolita and added the hashtag #WhatLiftsYou. Taylor Swift took the above picture and posted it to her Instagram account. A day later people stood in lines down the block to take their own winged pictures. Just like that, Kelsey Montague was on the map. And while obviously Taylor Swift has massive influence and social media frenzies create viral sensations, I like to think it’s also an instance of artists reaching out and helping each other up.
Because now Kelsey and her wings are a worldwide phenomenon.
I caught up with Kelsey a few weeks ago to ask her some questions.
Gypsy Queen: You’ve spoken before about your public street murals and how your wings were inspired in part by your grandfather’s artwork and his connection to birds. But how did you come up with the hashtag #WhatLiftsYou?
Kelsey Montague: I wanted to give people the opportunity to reflect on what is most important to them and that is how the hashtag #WhatLiftsYou was born. I also wanted to encourage people to post something positive on social media. There is an epidemic of cyber bullying online and I wanted my work to counter that.
GQ: Knowing that your public street art could disappear over time, does it matter to you that what you create won’t survive?
KM: I want it to survive long enough that it makes an impact in the community but I also kind of like the transient nature of street art. I think the fact it will eventually disappear gives it a kind of specialness.
GQ: Your #WhatLiftsYou interactive wings are very inspirational in a time that feels very emotionally charged, politically and socially. Do you feel that street art has the power to make positive changes right now, even in the face of all this turmoil?
KM: Absolutely. Again I think that street art should get us to ask important questions of ourselves and our world. What Lifts You really is about constantly reflecting on what is truly important in your life and escaping, for a moment, the negativity that surrounds us.
GQ: You’ve created a new hashtag, #WhatUnitesUs. What kind of subject matter do you plan to use for these murals?
KM: I want to focus on love as a superpower. My first #WhatUnitesUs mural features hearts coming from a person’s hands. I want people to reflect on our similarities instead of our differences and our power to spread love.
GQ: Did Trump’s election have an effect on your art? Or your artistic choices?
KM: I launched the #WhatUnitesUs campaign to give people a chance to reflect on our similarities instead of our differences, in response to such a divisive election.
GQ: Have you noticed a change in the art community since the election?
KM: I think the street art movement has continued to grow and gain steam in the wake of the election. I think that communities are even more open to street art because the need for beauty and comfort in our communities is so strong right now!
GQ: If you could send a message to the nation right now, what would it be?
KM: Let’s unite around our similarities, instead of fighting about our differences.
GQ: What’s next for you?
KM: I’m working on continuing to spread the #WhatUnitesUs and the #WhatLiftsYou message around the world this year! I’m also working on some cool projects and interesting products.
Thank you so much for your time, Kelsey!
If you’re in India, South Africa, Los Angeles, Miami or San Francisco, Kelsey will be coming to town to paint murals somewhere near you. Just look for the wings!