How did the foray into street art come about?
I have always been an artist. My mum, grandpa and great grandpa are/were all artists. After studying art and design in London, I was drawn to street art. When I moved to NYC I decided I wanted to do a large-scale street art installation. I was invited to create a piece in downtown Manhattan (Nolita) on a rotating art wall. I decided I wanted to do angel wings. I wanted to give New Yorkers a chance to become a living work of art. I also wanted to inspire people to share what ‘lifts them’ and that is how the hashtag #WhatLiftsYou was born. I put that on the piece and it went viral online.
I wanted to give people the chance to express themselves, that is why I initially thought of wings. Only later did I realise wings probably came to mind because my grandfather used to hide birds in every painting he created as a sign of his spirituality. I spent my youth in his studio trying to find the birds in every painting he did. I think wings and birds have a very special place in my family.
How many types of wings have you created?
I have created over 125 murals all over the world. Many of those murals are wings. Every pair of wings I create is unique and designed to reflect the community it is in. My favourite wings so far are still my first pair in NYC.
Adult colouring books had quite the moment a year or two back, and you’ve created one too. Do you feel this is because art has the potential to heal — a weapon against stress and anxiety?
Absolutely! My art is all about creating opportunities for people to express themselves. I believe that the self-expression process is so important on many levels: to relieve anxiety, to quiet the mind, to kick-start one’s imagination, to create change. I have two adult colouring books out: What Lifts You and What Lifts Your Heart.
What’s the story behind #WhatLiftsYou?
The hashtag really was created to provide people an opportunity to reflect on what is most important to them in their lives and to then share that online. The #WhatLiftsYou community on Instagram is huge (over 135,000 posts with my art). Life can get so very busy, I think it is important to stop and take a moment to reflect on what is most important to you. That is what ‘what lifts you’ is all about.
Then Taylor Swift posed with your angel wings in New York...
Taylor Swift posing with my wings was so very wonderful. I learned later, from the person with her that took the photo, that she was just driving by and was so struck by the wings she had to immediately jump out to take a picture.
Do you think street art is still very much a boys’ club?
Yes, I think we need more women in street art. I believe women often express themselves differently than men and adding our voice to the street art narrative is very important.
What brings you to the region?
I’ve always wanted to come to Dubai and was thrilled when Zabeel House by Jumeirah in Al Seef area offered a few walls for me to work on. I have always been fascinated by Arabic culture and this trip has been an absolute dream. To experience the legendary Emirati hospitality has been such a gift.
Have you had a chance to visit/spot any of Dubai’s graffiti?
I saw some great work in La Mer and, of course, I adore El Seed’s work!
How did you go about incorporating the UAE’s culture into the pieces here?
The camels, to me, are so representative of the UAE’s culture and its Bedouin history. I’ve wanted to create a camel-focused mural for a long time now but have saved it for the perfect location. As soon as this opportunity came to me I knew Dubai was the right fit.
Which country is on your wish list to paint in next and why?
I am excited to paint in Singapore next month. Next year my dream would be to create a piece in Cuzco, Peru and Moscow, Russia. I’m working on making that happen.
What do you hope to achieve through your murals?
I want to give people the excuse to be really creative — to become a living work of art ‘inside’ of my pieces. I also would love it if people reflect on what is most important to them and share that in the hashtag #WhatLiftsYou on social media. I think that social media can sometimes be a mean place and I want my work to inspire kindness online.