Celeste Mountjoy aka Filthyratbag is 16 years old and as irreverent as ever. Her infamous comic drawings are intelligent, cheeky, hilarious representations of exactly what it’s like to be young and riddled with anxieties. We spoke about what it’s like to manage insanely popular social media accounts, and about being mistaken for a man in his 30s.
MINNA GILLIGAN: Hey, Celeste! Let’s start with your alias, Filthyratbag. Is it true that it is in part an ironic term of endearment bestowed upon you by your mother? And for readers outside Australia, could you explain the very Australian term “ratbag”?
CELESTE MOUNTJOY: Yeah, my mum used to call me that when I was being a li’l shit. If someone calls you a “filthyratbag” you’re basically that, a sneaky li’l shit. I think it just stuck.
Is using a pseudonym positive for you in a sense that it allows some distance between your personal identity and the one that produces and distributes your artwork? I like how it’s non-gender specific and encourages this idea that you could be anyone at any age. What is the most common misconception that people have of you before you “reveal your identity” as such?
I made that my Instagram name when I was about 14 or 15. That’s when I started uploading my drawings, and I think I was sort of stressed about how I’d be perceived or how people would receive them—especially ’cause most of my drawings weren’t necessarily “pretty,” not that I had a large following or anything. Tagging my drawings with #filthyratbag at the time left a space between what I was making and me. I haven’t really wanted to change it since then, even though I’m mostly pretty comfortable in what I make. I’ve had a lot of people tell me they expected me to be a man in my 30s, I think that’s sort of funny. But I’m also surprised more people don’t expect me to be young. I feel like youth is a time when you experience a whole lot of angst.
Your characters have a particular elongated, cartoon-esque quality to them that is very nuanced and specific to your work. Has your style of drawing your characters developed and refined over time?
My first finished sketchbook I have is from 2004, so I would’ve been about four. My style has always been changing and developing, of course, as well as my subject matter. When I started developing my style, I’d look in a mirror and see how my arms bent, and to look at my legs and neck, to see how I should be drawing things. That’s when I started enjoying drawing limbs all awkward and bent in these weird positions. It adds a whole new sense of discomfort to a drawing.
It sounds like a cliché question, but is balancing high school and your art practice at times challenging? Do you switch mind-sets in some ways from when you’re making and managing your art practice to when you’re doing more day-to-day school and life activities?
Yeah, of course it’s hard. I feel like there’s a list of things I have to do that just keeps growing and never really ends. I don’t know how much I change mindsets, I just get things done and try to keep my brain going and think of new ideas as much as I can. My art practice feels day to day and so does everything else. It’s just about juggling that.
The observations in your work are astute and experiential, not to mention at times hilarious. A lot of interviewers have commented about how worldly you are beyond your age. I tend to believe age is a little irrelevant, and “just a number” so to speak. What would you say to people who are overtly shocked about how young you are, making the kind of intelligent, supposedly “beyond your years” work you make?
Like I’ve said before, I don’t think age stunts your creativity. I mean, time and practice makes you technically better, and experiences fuel your ideas, but it’s not like being 16 means I’m oblivious to anything outside of myself. I’ve never been bought up in a way that’s stunted what I’ve wanted to do. My parents and the people around me supported what I wanted to do growing up, and also inspired me to do lots of things. The first time I went overseas by myself I was 14. It was like if I could make my own money and sort it out myself then I could go for it. Some older people are a bit shit and some young people are a bit shit.
What materials do you use to make your work? Some appear digitally rendered and others hand-drawn. Do you have a preference either way?
I like digital, ’cause it looks really clean. I like the solid colors. But I also like the feeling of pen on paper and using pencils. I hate paint. I’m not patient. My lines are normally just a continuous stroke, and painting feels too delicate.
Whereabouts do you largely make your work? Does your school have good art facilities, or do you make things cross-legged in your bedroom?
Cross-legged in my bedroom is normally it. There’s an art center near my house that’s good if I wanna use certain materials. I like being comfortable, so being in my room and listening to music and doodling is one of my favorite things.
Are the people in your drawings inspired by other people around you? Often they appear to reference the worst part of the internet…like trolling men leaving unsolicited comments. Who are your characters inspired by, for the most part?
They’re inspired by everyone and everything. Most of my characters aren’t just one person I know. They could be a hybrid or a stereotype, or I could hear something someone’s said or implied and change the wording and scene. There are ridiculous things everywhere. I’m also fortunate to be surrounded by very funny people.
Managing a Facebook page with nearly 150,000 likes must be intense. I enjoy how you take the time to answer a bunch of the comments and questions you get. What is your relationship with social media?
It is intense. When I first got bigger on Instagram and Facebook it was all very quick and full on. I guess my relationship with social media is really good. I get contacted by shitty people, but it’s lovely and flattering to have people enjoy what I do. It’s a difficult space sometimes with censoring—a lot of my stuff gets removed—but I just have to work with that, I guess. I appreciate the internet a lot. It encourages me to keep producing stuff.
Are there any artists that you are particularly inspired or influenced by?
What are your aims for your art practice and yourself in the future?
I don’t really know. I don’t have a huge plan. I’m trying to take things day by day and make as much as I can. I hope I always love drawing as much as I do now, and I’m gearing up to do my first solo exhibition soon. Everything’s changing all the time and it’s enjoyable. I’m just gonna keep working hard.
What are three words that describe your artwork?
I really wouldn’t know three words because it’s always changing and different. I think I just see my art as a kind of diary or timeline of my life that I can link to different times. I like looking at old drawings and remembering what inspired it or where I was. I love my drawings and I love my characters. I feel very connected to them. ♦