Californian based artist Colette Miller was recently in Australia as part of an event to promote travel to Los Angeles, showing off her iconic “Angel Wings” artworks – one of which she painted at a special event in Sydney. While she was there, I spoke to her about the origins of the piece, which she’s now painted all over the world in what has become the Global Angel Wings Project, which she launched in Los Angeles in 2012.
What brought you to Australia with Discover Los Angeles?
I think that my work is particularly popular in Los Angeles, which is where I started the Global Angel Wings Project, and so I think they saw the potential for an artist to represent the heart and soul of Los Angeles at this moment. Though hopefully it’s not just momentary, hopefully it’s more of a timeless thing.
How would you compare the process of the piece you painted today to your very first pair of angel wings? I imagine its original incarnation was far less planned.
Exactly… the first pair was actually illegally painted (in 2012), and I had my friends doing look out for the cops. It was in Downtown Los Angeles, on a corrugated iron gate. And I had a buddy help me, (the late) Stuart Noble, he used to help slop up Shepard Fairey’s stuff, and Banksy’s too. So he used to help me because we had to work really fast. So I had the pre-prepared them on paper and we pasted it up with this big bucket of wheat paste. Stuart was really a professional at that. So the first pair went up in 3 or 4 minutes, and my friends were on the corner yelling “clear! go! go!”. It was sort of a group project *laughs*. A mass criminal act. All of us could have been arrested! And none of us were kids.
Was the initial objective to just create that one work, or did you have bigger plans already?
Truthfully, I’d been driving around LA, and I was having gridlock syndrome, and I kept seeing images of wings, they kept coming to me. I kept thinking – look at all these big blank canvases. These walls around the city. What would I want to see? So I had this zeitgeist, this “spirit of the times” moment, and I wanted to put up these big wings that would remind humanity of its true divine self. I wanted something that would show the higher nature side of humanity. Like if you were in a dark alley, or walking on a street, and you were on the cusp of being afraid, or doing something good or bad, and you saw something that reminded you of your better self… for some reason the idea of the wings came to me and I acted on it.
And what was the initial reaction?
A week later there was a street festival, near where I’d put up that first work, and there was a line. People were lining up to get a photo with it. Someone put out a stool for the kids, because they were too short for it. And there was this little Latina girl who took a photo there and it’s still one of my favourite photos with the piece. She’s bending down into white light. I was so happy, because I felt like the idea had been recognised. And that was a good feeling.
So where did it go from there?
I had in my mind at the time when I started it, I had the urge or the channelling or the calling that this was going to be my “tag” for a while. I had this drive to get them up, illegal or not, which is what it was like in the early days. But that soon branched off into commissions and requests for sanctioned walls.
In 2012, not long after the first work was pasted, I was in Kenya on a film project, and I put up wings there, up in Kogelo, which is where Obama’s ancestry comes from. I went to the slums in Nairobi, where a boxing club was named after the wings, and I’m still in contact with them now. They call themselves Koyale Wings Boxing. So that was the first international installation, and that led to my first trip to Australia and Juarez in Mexico.
For Juarez, someone had contacted me through social media to put the wings up to fuel healing and positivity following all the drug cartel violence. So those projects really hit home with me, and led me to focus on areas that would benefit most from a gentle reminder of humanity’s higher nature, of their better selves. I’ll probably be doing refugee camps in Europe later this year, maybe Turkey and Lebanon. And I think I’m working with a breast cancer medical centre. So the global aspect of it just started naturally. One thing led to another, even though the original idea was to do wings all over the place.
And it’s something that can be understood and appreciated in any language.
Definitely. I think that, right now on this planet, everything is more global. And this image is universal. It’s non-denominational. I didn’t have religious intentions when I did it, even though some religions can relate to it. And I’m cool with that too. I didn’t want to dictate how people interpreted it. Some people just see it as a great selfie. And they are! But I don’t even think I knew about Instagram when I started this. The message though is simple and universal, and it’s also infinite with different photos, different walls, different installations.
To learn more about the artist, head to her official website.
Photo Credit: Discover Los Angeles.