2016 / Sunday

What Lifts You: spirits soar on angels’ wings

Laurel Shaw-Adams

A detail from Kelsey Montague’s work. Photograph by Laurel Shaw-Adams

A detail from Kelsey Montague’s work. Photograph by Laurel Shaw-Adams

Whether queuing for an event, browsing the book collections, or discussing literature over a glass of chardonnay, Kelsey Montague wants festival-goers to take a moment to think about what inspires them.

Ms Montague is the 2016 Sydney Writers’ Festival artist-in-residence – an international street artist particularly known for her large-scale murals of angel wings.

Here in Sydney, she has created three murals at Bondi Beach, and one outside Pier 2/3 at Walsh Bay. But her art is only complete once the people who view it make themselves part of the picture.

Viewers become participants as they are invited to step into the artwork to pose, snap a photo and share on social media, using the hash tag #whatliftsyou.

An Instagram search reveals thousands of people – and sometimes their pets – posing with her intricate designs. Posters write captions like: “Spreading my wings and finding my feet”; “May there be peace on earth”, and “You are stronger than you think.”

Kelsey Montague wanted to “do something that was fun, and obviously personal for people; uplifting for them to share something positive about their life, and use social media in a good way.

“As an artist, you want to do creative work, but what I find most rewarding is that people then get to take it a step further, and it becomes more personal to them,” she says.

Sometimes people are invited to join in creating the mural itself. Ms Montague worked on her Walsh Bay mural over two days. On the first day, she created the design, and on the second day she left acrylic paint pens and a sign asking festival-goers to help her colour it in.

“I love seeing people getting involved and interacting with my work,” she says.

The US-born street artist comes from a family of painters, and says that while art was a huge part of her life growing up, she has only been doing her signature murals for two years. She has now painted street murals in six countries across three continents.

Ms Montague works intuitively, not planning her designs in advance, but believes she “subconsciously” got the idea of angels wings from her grandfather. “My grandfather would always draw birds, and I only put it together later that I always loved drawing feathers and wings.”

The artist has a large following on social media, particularly Instagram, where she has more than 33 thousand followers. It was a huge turning point for her when singer-songwriter Taylor Swift posed with one of her early murals in New York City and posted it. “It was amazing, it was a life-changing experience,” she says.

Other celebrity fans include actress Vanessa Hudgens and Canadian singer Carly Rae Jepson. Ms Montague has also been featured in Forbes, The New York Times, MTV, and Entertainment Weekly.

Originally hailing from Colorado, she has been a regular visitor to Australia, and says visiting Sydney is like “coming home.”

Kelsey Montague’s Sydney murals can be found on the boardwalk at Bondi Beach, and at Pier 2/3 Walsh Bay. She has published a colouring book, also called What Lifts You. A second book is due for release in October.