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Welcome to filthyratbag’s paradise

The illustrator cultivates a disenchanted reality in her first solo exhibition

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There’s a lot to be said about the work of Melbourne based illustrator, Celeste Mountjoy. Her alias alone, filthyratbag, can be viewed as an inappropriate moniker for someone who creates such honest interpretations of the world surrounding them. A simple scroll through the impressively extensive and varied body of work featured across her Instagram page shows an artist with a lot on their mind, and even more planned for the future. Themes of sexuality, social awkwardness, beauty and the narcissists that consume it all, are just a small part of her extensive output. A defining example of the creative force the internet generation can procure, Mountjoy’s work doesn’t simply speak for itself; rather, the majority of youths attempting to strive and find cause through their own personal struggle. All done with a colourful sense of humour in tow.

Combining this diversified range of topics and unconventional beauty, throughout her comics and illustrations, Mountjoy has received much fanfare, despite only now presenting her first body of work at Collingwood’s Backwoods Gallery, across from the equally as provocative Alphachannelling. I’ve Been To Paradise But I’ve Never Been To Me sees the artist create a body of over 40 new works, as she further explores society’s expectations and interpretations of women.

How did you approach creating the work for I’ve Been To Paradise, But I’ve Never Been To Me?

I think everything in my show is connected. It all ties into my experience of being a woman and becoming a woman in a very hyper-sexed and surreal technological age. 

When I look at your work, I see parts of Egyptian hieroglyphics, Aeon Flux, and even a bit of Mike Judge. What are some of the influences on your work?

I loved Michael Leunig growing up. I also remember watching a lot of Ren and Stimpy and loved how the characters, freakily showed emotion – it was so intense, with so many lines. During the show I also got really into Raymond Pettibon, he uses lines in a similar way, I love that look and I think I used it a lot in my Playboy series.

The naming of your artwork feels like a specific part of the finished product. Is this so the audiences have a better understanding of your intentions?

For me, the naming of an artwork kind of feels like the string that wraps it up. I want my drawings to tell a story and the names help me do that without totally spelling it out. 

The presence of leopards is heavily prevalent throughout the show. Do you have any reasoning behind this?

I’ve been using leopards as an extension of me and an extension of women. 

Where did the initial idea of the reimaged Playboy covers come to fruition? How much reference did you take from the magazine, both visually and in theme?

I was always fascinated with looking through sexy mags and watching porn from a really young age, because it was so available to me as someone growing up in the 2000s, along with the internet, and porn becoming so accessible. I guess the depiction of these sexy models and pornstars having screeching multiple orgasms didn’t align with my personal experience with sex and sexuality; it was far more awkward, alien and scary than I had imagined. 

Your artwork can be viewed from a lot of different standpoints. Are these interpretations based on how you feel on any given day or do ideas tend to brew with you over a period of time before being drawn? How did this approach work for you in creating this work as a collection?

I think, with this show, I had a very specific vision in mind of what I wanted to put across. It was easy to bring it all together because it’s all a reflection of my own.

Your work is quite simple at first glance, but you manage to fit a lot of ideas and information within it. Do you feel as though you have found a style of work that suits you or is there more you would like to explore elsewhere?

I think I’m always learning and changing. Even throughout the making of this show, I feel like my lines evolved and changed. This is the first time I’ve tried larger scale painting; I’d like to keep exploring that.

There are a handful of works with a more stripped back approach, containing no colour and your character forms interacting with each other a lot more. Is this more of an evolution of where you think your work is headed?

I’ve always liked simplicity and relatively crudely drawn lines to make up people. Having my characters connecting in a way where you can’t tell where one body ends and the next starts is something I love.

Do you think your work is more of an internal or external extension of yourself? Are they the culmination of ideas, observations, and people you meet?

It’s everything above. I don’t go out of my way to draw ultra specific scenarios. I just collect and eventually, I can pull it together to make something. 

I’ve Been To Paradise, But I’ve Never Been To Me opens this Friday August 31 at Backwoods Gallery until September 16. Learn more about the exhibition here.

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