Thanks to artist Colette Miller, Hermosa Beach earns its wings.
- Written byAlina Orozco
Photographed by Kat Monk
If you thought the angel wings painted on walls around town—most recently on the side of Hermosa’s 17th Street Mural House—were there to serve as your Instagram background, you wouldn’t be completely off base. Colette Miller, the artist who has surreptitiously adorned empty LA walls with her street art creation, had full intention for you to put those wings on—though she didn’t quite predict the social media phenomenon to come.
After all, it was only 2012 and just the start of social mania when Colette first envisioned messages of hope on blank walls of LA, projecting what she wanted to see on these empty canvases and desperately needing a visual break from the commercialism of billboards. The first set of human-sized wings went up in LA’s arts district and quickly gained notoriety with folks posing in front of the indigo-hued angel wings.
“With social media and smartphones, the timing was ideal—though that wasn’t actually planned on my part,” says Colette. “I didn’t even have Instagram at the time. It wasn’t the goal of the project to hashtag my art, but I love that it has been hashtagged so much.”
For Colette, whose creative roster also includes filmmaking and music, the goal of The Global Angel Wings Project was to remind humanity of its higher nature. “That is a universal meditation to me, and I wanted that to be easy for people to run into that. It was immediate and accessible to the public, not hidden in a gallery or museum or house for a few that ventured that way.”
Today you can find angel wings not only on the “gritty streets of Downtown LA” but also in Washington D.C., Virginia, New York, Philadelphia, Cuba, Mexico, Australia and Kenya, among other locations. All walks of life—from police officers and politicians to ballerinas and religious clergy—have been photographed in front of the wings … maybe reflecting on their own angelic powers on Earth or seeking energy from the spiritual installation behind them, but ultimately becoming part of the art themselves.
Each location demands a new approach from Colette. Typically she pre-paints the wings, often using blues and violets to evoke a meditative state. She then works to sculpt, mold and varnish the art onto its permanent surface.
“I’ve worked now with a lot of different projects and charities and locations and materials,” notes Colette. Old car tires, stained glass, Plexiglas, vinyl and wire all have served as the artist’s canvases.
Thanks to social media the project has not only reached masses, delivering a message of hope with each selfie, but it has also found a renewed purpose: charity. Betsy Ryan, the Hermosa Beach resident who a few years back transformed her home into a campaign hub against oil drilling, reached out to Colette in hopes of partnering for a new cause.
This time the 17th Street Mural House would transform into headquarters for the We Can Be Angels project, dedicated to helping Syrian refugees. “She contacted me through Facebook and told me about her Mural House, and it seemed like a great house,” says Colette, who finished a pair of angel wings on the side of the Betsy’s house this spring. Since then the two women have traveled together, spreading their message of peace.
“We just were in France together,” says Colette. Betsy worked with the mayor of Grande-Synthe and arranged for The Global Angel Wings Project to be installed in refugee camps in Grande-Synthe and Calais—a small token of solidarity, hope and perseverance for the thousands of displaced there.
“In the very beginning I wanted the wings to remind humanity of their true, divine selves—the self we all have that is our higher nature,” Colette explains. This reminder couldn’t be more relevant today.
So if you spot a pair of wings, stand boldly in front of them, remember the message, and don’t forget to post that photo.