Even if you're not familiar with her name, you’ve probably seen muralist Kelsey Montague's art. Kelsey’s interactive street murals can be found throughout the country and around the globe, as well as on the Instagram accounts of multiple celebrities. Kelsey invites people to pose with her murals and share them on social media with a thoughtful and deeply personal prompt. Recently, we had the opportunity to work with Kelsey to create a mural on the third floor of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, near the Luce Center. Featuring a frolic of blossoms and a cheeky panda—quite possibly Washington, DC's favorite animal—the mural invites visitors to interact with it from three different points. Pucker up and pose to blow a flowery kiss, pause for a portrait framed by a heart-shaped bower, or reach out your hand to accept the generous panda's bouquet.
We sat down with Kelsey for a quick chat about illustration, street art, and what’s next for her.
Eye Level: Can you tell us about your background and how you started making murals?
Kelsey Montague: I have always been an illustrator and in college I loved learning more about street art. When I moved to NYC I really wanted to ‘spread my wings’ and do a street art piece. The wings I did in NYC went viral pretty quickly and the rest is history.
EL: What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken as an artist? What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
KM: The biggest challenge I have ever taken on is doing a 70 ft tall x 40 ft wide flamingo street art piece in Poland last summer. It took my sister and I 12 hours a day for 6 days on a 70 ft tall foot lift to finish that piece. And we loved it. The biggest risk I have ever taken was to quit my job, move to a different state and follow my dream to run my own artistic business.
EL: Which American artists (living or dead) have had the most influence on your work/process?
KM: My mom and grandfather were both artists—watercolorists. They influenced me the most because I grew up watching them, wandering through their studios and learning from them.
EL: What are the top two takeaways you hope people gain from interacting with your art?
KM: I hope people 1.) take a moment to reflect on what most inspires them in their life and 2.) have a moment to be creative themselves.
EL: What has surprised you the most about how people have interacted with your art?
KM: How honest and open people are when you ask them to reflect on something that is fairly vulnerable. I’ve read the most beautiful, vulnerable posts about people who have struggled through heartbreak, job loss, cancer etc.
EL: Would you rather have unlimited sushi for life or unlimited tacos for life?
KM: Absolutely tacos. Shredded chicken with lots of guacamole.
EL: You’re based in Colorado, but have worked with some very interesting people all over the world. What would you like to do next?
KM: I would really like to work draw on a boxcar, a ship and a bridge next! A silo would also be incredible.
EL: Why did you choose #LoveItForward to represent this project?
KM: My iconic #WhatLiftsYou campaign has drawn many responses from people around the world—the one common denominator in most of the responses is the need for love. Taking a cue from the 'pay it forward' concept, the 'Love It Forward' campaign encourages people to show acts of love which will then encourage and inspire the spread of love.
Kelsey’s mural is currently on view. Come see it and snap your selfie. Don’t forget to share it with #atSAAM and #LoveItForward.