Celeste Mountjoy is Filthyratbag, a Melbourne-based artist whose illustrations, released mainly through her strong online platforms, have got people talking, and laughing, and thinking deeply…and relating to rats. Notably, her works sit on a broad spectrum of feelings and motives. There are many unsettling yet equally humorous truths to be found within the clean lines she creates. She’s also 17 years old, but might actually be 35. Follow Mountjoy and her character’s journeys at @filthyratbag and get to know her a little better below.
Let’s first talk about your evolution as an artist. When did you begin drawing comics and at what point did you start to upload and publish them?
I liked having narrative and story in my illustrations since I was about 4, the first sketchbook I have completed is from 2004 and there are lots of stories in it (my mum would sit down and write while I told her the stories). I’ve always enjoyed stories. I’ve always loved reading and writing. I started making the comic style I do now when I was about 15, I started uploading them at 16 on Instagram and sometimes Facebook.
Amongst many other things, your illustrations encapsulate body image, sexuality and a kind of sad yet humorous hysteria about the state of the world. Is your work a personal documentation of female experience as you feel and see it, or do you create illustrations with intent to make outward social and political statements?
I find it really hard to answer this because my drawings vary a lot in content. Sometimes I’m just taking the piss out of something I think is stupid and sometimes I really want to convey a message and sometimes I just want to draw some sexy, sexy rats.
Your illustrations feature a variety of characters. I love the fluidity between animal and human forms. Do you have any favourite characters?
Yes! My first favourite characters were probably depression the cat and Jo. I felt a real attachment to them. I think that’s one of my favourite things about making comics and characters, I feel like I have a relationship with what I draw, like they’re my babies. My favourite character now is rattus.
Social media has played an important role in your reach as an artist. Along with the positives of social media there can be an influx of weirdness and negativity through these channels. What is your relationship with social media and how do you handle any negativity or criticism?
I’ve read a lot of things written about me on the internet that say I’m anti social media and my art shines a light on its stupidity ra ra ra- but I actually don’t hate it at all, I think it’s great. Obviously there are shit aspects to it, but the way I’ve been able to use it has only really helped me and introduced me to art and people and helped me get my shit out there. Of course there are gross DUDES sliding into my dms and 12-year-old girls tagging their friends in photos of my armpit hair but it doesn’t really impact me. I think social media is what you make it and how you interact with it plus not taking it too seriously is a good idea.
I see you get a lot of comments on your Instagram/tumblr with people expressing their surprise/wonder/personal crisis at the fact you are a lot younger, or the same age as them. Do you have any advice for people worried they are ‘too young’ or even ‘too old’ to get their art out in the public space?
I’m actually 35. They said I was too old to make it in a young persons game. Don’t listen to them.
You recently exhibited your work at Omeara London amongst artists such as Polly Nor. Her work depicting women and their demons is hauntingly truthful, bewitching and empowering. I see Nor’s work and your work coming together powerfully in a space! What kind of works did you exhibit/themes did you explore for this exhibition and what’s it been like taking on international exhibitions?
This has been the second time I’ve exhibited in London, and I’m so lucky to be doing it alongside so many talented chooks. I exhibited my ‘growing ladies’ one, which is a drawing of a woman watering another woman to help her grow. I like the idea of ladies helping each other rather than tearing each other down. There’s so much tearing down of fellow ladies ESPECIALLY in a social media age and I don’t think it should be a thing. It’s been very exciting exhibiting overseas, I wish I could make it to all these exhibitions but I like seeing people with my work.
Who are some of your most loved female artists right now?
Polly Nor, Octoplum, Kot Bonkers, Frances Cannon
What is filthyratbag focusing on for the rest of the year? Is there anything you are experimenting with or any up and coming exhibitions we can look out for?
I’d really like to make a book this year. But I say that every year.
I understand you love David Bowie. Best Bowie song to draw too?
Pretty much any song from every Bowie album from Space Oddity to Diamond Dogs.
Best Bowie song to dance too?
Hang Onto Yourself
Best Bowie song to cry too?