A Conversation with Kelsey Montague about #WhatLiftsYou

Taylor Swift in front of Kelsey Montague Wings – @taylorswift

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.

Art by Kelsey Montague – Nashville, TN

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.

Art by Kelsey Montague – San Diego, CA

 

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.

Art by Kelsey Montague – San Diego, CA

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 want to track down Kelsey’s murals you can see a list here on her website. You can also follow her on Instagram.

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!

Art by Kelsey Montague – Nashville, TN

Breakfast, inventive dive helmet uses and first grade lessons

You would think that with the whole world in front of me and time for days I would have enough time to see everyone I want to see for as long as I want to see them. Turns out the world doesn’t work like that and even when I’m not on a “schedule” I somehow put myself on a schedule.

Elizabeth and I had a much more hurried visit in Atlanta than either of us would have liked. I stayed at her beautiful house and she made me her famous Italian eggs for breakfast: grilled bread with chunks of roasted garlic, sprinkled with parmesan and smeared with tomato sauce topped with a perfectly cooked egg, the yolk running into the crispy bread when you cut into it. With strong coffee, a few routines from So You Think You Can Dance?, discussion of the finer points of how to make a 90 second dance routine into a compelling story and finishing with an 80’s music extravaganza, it was the perfect morning. I made some great friend choices in my college years and she’s one of them.

She left for a doctor’s appointment and a little later I drove out of ATL under a dismal leaden grey sky and the threat of rain. As I drove up 75 into Tennessee the grey sky spit and misted and drizzled and rained and fogged for hours, easing up every now and then but showing no sun all day.  That April showers business? I’m over it. I want to see some sun! Remind me I said that when I get to the desert…

Several hours later I stopped in Chattanooga for lunch and tracked down a place I’d heard of called:

I cannot resist a place with that name that serves breakfast all day. Plus they had the most kick ass use of an old dive helmet that I’ve ever seen:

I had breakfast again. I can do eat breakfast at every meal. And be happy. It’s my favorite meal of the day. I had a grilled potato and applewood smoked bacon omelette with a biscuit as big as my head that I couldn’t finish. Delicious. If you’re ever in Chattanooga, stop by. They’re open late.

I didn’t have time for much else because I had a yoga class and a dinner date so I booked it straight into Nashville without stopping. There wasn’t much I would have stopped for anyway but when I got into Nashville and tried to go to my yoga class, I realized I crossed a time zone and acquired an extra hour.

BUMMER.

I wish we lived in a world where I could give that hour away to someone who wanted it.Or I wish I could pay it forward and use it later down the road when I’m driving like a bat out of hell because I’m SO late. I made good use of the hour today but I’m sure someone else needed it more than I did. If anyone could get on the technology and make this time shiftiness happen before I finish this road trip, I promise them my first extra hour.

I did bikram in Cool Springs with Sandra, a very energetic upbeat teacher. The class was cooler than others I’ve taken lately, which is always more bearable for me, but I still had a lot of trouble with the balance poses. This situation was not helped by the woman standing directly in front of me.

It’s so hard not to look at other students in the class. Normally I try to focus on my own poses but this woman was deliberately out of sync with the rest of the class, starting her poses late, finishing them early and essentially having her own class on her own time. I was unreasonably irritated by her timing and it affected my ability to concentrate. My teacher in Winston Salem, NC had emphasized the importance of everyone starting and ending together, so I was thinking about her while trying not to watch the woman in front of me. Finally I had to pull myself together and think of a phrase I haven’t heard in years, which led me to my Bikram lesson of the day:

Keep your eyes on your own paper.

It’s so first grade but it’s so true. When we got to the first savasana I breathed deeply and reminded myself that her practice is not my business. I don’t know where she is, what she needs or why she was here. All I need to worry about is my practice. Have a little grace, try not to watch her, focus on my own poses. It’s hard not to judge but it’s important. I know that I have days where it takes everything I’ve got just to stay in the room. Maybe she’s having that kind of day. And the next time I have that kind of day, I hope someone gives me grace.

I left class thinking about her and drove to my best friend’s parent’s house in Nashville where I’ll be soaking up their good will for an extra day before I jet off to Mexico for a mini-break over the weekend. I certainly should have tons of extra grace to give away given the blissed out nature of my life right now.

Be good to yourselves.

More tomorrow.