Interview: Celeste Mountjoy

Filthyratbag creator, Celeste Mountjoy, has a new book coming out, What The Fuck Is This. A stand-out collection of original illustrations, and observations on what it’s like to be a young female in 2022. 

Mountjoy is deeply skillful at expressing the thoughts and feelings that we all have, but don’t have the words or the balls to say out loud. The original outlier at the tender age of 17 – when the average teen is just working out what they want to study at Uni – Mountjoy began posting her work online, which led to a huge following almost overnight, and before she knew what had hit her, creating her unique brand of art became her full-time job. 

Mountjoy’s new book What The Fuck Is This (Pan Macmillan) slated for release July 12th, is raw, honest, and humorous, in a way that makes you feel like you are not alone in your feelings, as you navigate your way through life. 

Happy has been a big fan of Filthyratbag for a while, and we were absolutely stoked to see What The Fuck Is This filled with what Mountjoy does best. Delivering her own brand of brilliant, colourful, and candid explorations of womanhood, love, loss, and searching for the deeper meaning that prompts the question what the fuck is this.

Mountjoy has given a voice to a generation that isn’t happy to smile politely through all of life’s perplexities and absurdities, and What the Fuck is This helps to knock the edge off, and give us a little chuckle or a naughty smirk, and say fuck yeah. 

Celeste Mountjoy filthyratbag

Happy: Hey Celeste, what are you up to today?

Celeste: Today I’m in my studio, freezing. Every Melbourne winter I become so cold and bitter that I revert back to my depressed 15-year-old self for its entirety….I didn’t ask to be born, life is pain, etc. I have a really bad attention span so I have to be diligent about structuring my days, otherwise, I just doom scroll and blackout for 5 hours. 

Happy: Tell us about your suburb, what do you love/not love about where you live?

Celeste: I love where I live- it’s pretty quiet and suburbian but it’s close enough to the city and has lots of good food. When I first moved out of home I lived above a restaurant in a place with no windows and a mouse infestation just so I could be amongst the trendy beautiful people in Fitzroy- normally I can romanticise anything from the past but it was exclusively the worst of times. Having somewhere you can relax without a mouse trying to enter your mouth is really important.

Happy: Describe your average workday?

Celeste: Today I have a fun schedule with lots of drawing involved which always cheers me up. I’ll also go to an exercise class this arvo to try and regulate my seasonal depression a little bit.

Happy: What about your ultimate day?

Celeste: I think at the moment I’d love to be anywhere overseas. It’s been a really long time since I’ve been out of the country so I’d love to be somewhere warm and fun with nice friends. I’m a simple woman.

Happy: If we paid you $500,000 for this interview what would you do with the money?

Celeste: This feels like the kind of question someone would ask before they present you with a giant cheque for $500,000. Is that what’s happening? Can I have it?

Happy: Which book are you currently reading?

Celeste: Roald Dahl Kiss Kiss. I always loved Roald Dahl’s books when I was a kid, and so I’ve been trying out his adult stories now. Kiss Kiss is made up of short stories, which I absolutely love. I’ve been having a short story love affair since I read Miranda July’s Nobody Belongs Here More Than You which is one of my favourite books. I’d love to make a book of short stories one day.

My dad was a film lecturer so he used to show me a lot of movies when I was little. I remember watching The Elephant Man by David Lynch when I was very young and getting really obsessed with it- I think I was drawn to any story that involved tragedy because I’ve always been pretty dramatic and emotional. There’s a writer called Jacqueline Wilson that wrote YA novels that were always super tragic and amazing, I used to eat them up! I still re-read sometimes.

what the fuck is this filthyratbag

Happy: Study or self-taught?

Celeste: Self-Taught.  I just did high school, which I finished by the skin of my teeth. I felt like I didn’t really succeed in school. I’ve never been to Uni or anything like that. So it’s all just been learning through trial and error. 

Happy: Tell us a bit about your creative community where you are from. 

Celeste: I grew up with pretty creative parents, my dad is really into film and music, and my mum is really wordy, and creative in that way so it was great to grow up in a creative household. I always felt like I was very encouraged to draw and to do what I liked, which was really good.

I went to art school in high school which I really struggled with, I find academic art something to be that I don’t really thrive at.  I’ve always struggled with it. Melbourne is such a great place to meet people and especially with the internet because I’ve got such a biggish following, I’ve met so many people online that I can talk about art stuff, and things I like watching, you know you learn so much through just seeing other people creating which is brilliant. I live with my partner, and he’s an artist as well, he’s taught me how to paint murals, and how to convert my style into a different medium, which is something that is helpful, but a lot of my work stuff that I do, is quite solitary like I’ve never enjoyed collaborations and that sort of thing. I think I do my best work when I’m alone and am a bit self-absorbed if that makes sense.

Happy: Your work comes across as quite spontaneous as though you’ve poured it out, and it’s done, it’s on the page. We love that about your work.

Celeste: Yes! Instant gratification art.

Happy: We saw your recent mural that’s gracing the walls of Little Lonsdale St located in the center of Melbourne, any plans for others?

Celeste: I might be in August, but nothing is locked down yet, but for now, since I’ve finished the book, I’m trying to have a slight breather. It took a lot of energy in a lot of different ways to make something like that. I’m not really used to doing long-form work, and because it’s like a really personal thing, I guess I found it a bit emotionally draining as well, so for a bit of self-preservation it’s good to take a bit of a break and just breathe for a moment.

Happy: What kind of things do you enjoy doing when you are not drawing or painting?

Celeste: I still always enjoy drawing, but not necessarily with an intention or any sort of like any majorly thought out concept behind it, I find that it’s more like mindless doodling, to be something that I find to be more relaxing. Rather than having to craft a story, like with my book. I do other stuff, I do volunteer work, teaching aerobics class every week to people with disability, having a routine, and doing stuff like that is really important for my mental health. I think that if I just spend every day in my studio by myself, I get really inside my head, I kind of manage to get stuck in these little obsessive loops, which is why doing stuff like making murals is even good, because it’s a lot more physical, just like being hunched over a desk, and thinking and repeating, and thinking and repeating, and having a sore neck.

Happy:: I think you nailed the best two things for getting out of your head, helping others, and physical labour. Brilliant.

Celeste: You’ve got to learn them, otherwise you’ll drive yourself around the twist a little. 

It sucks, I hated when people used to tell me to exercise for my mental health, and I’d be like, oh you just don’t get it, you clearly don’t understand, and then I started exercising and I was oh right..haha they’ve got a point.

Happy: Transparency is an important theme in your work, which we love, what do you wish had more transparency in the world?

Celeste: Tough question! I love transparency but I think I sometimes struggle to find the balance between being vulnerable and oversharing. Maybe I’d like it if everyone else started over sharing too so that I can stop lying in bed and thinking about all of the ridiculous things I said at the event.

Happy: What is your favourite element of your own art planning? Drawing? Experimenting? 

Celeste: The process itself, I find it very therapeutic, and it gives me a deeper understanding of myself and certain things that have been going on, in my world, or have happened in my world, and sometimes I need the clarity, and digging deep into those sorts of things can be difficult to get through, but it’s worth it sometimes, there’s a fine line between picking emotional scabs and doing things to get a better understanding of them. Sometimes I find myself dwelling a bit too much rather than just thinking. 

Happy: We love your process, an honest raw, you wear your heart on your sleeve, is your personality like that? Or is your art more your inside voice?

Celeste: I’ve always been a pretty natural over-sharer, I’ve never really had a big urge to hide the way I feel,  and sometimes to my detriment, you know, I’ve had to learn who you should over share to, and when is the right time, and when you’ve got to keep things inside. I think I’ve just always liked storytelling though, and so I express myself and be creative, storytelling together, I really enjoy that, 

Happy: What is a medium that you are itching to explore? Animation?

Celeste: I’ve done a little bit of animating. But weirdly I find out of all the mediums, that animation sends me around the twist the most. I think that its because it’s so fiddly, and I didn’t get taught how to do it in school or anything so I do it in a really long tedious way, I’m sure there are better quicker ways to do it, but last time I did an animation project I had a freak-out, I created like a mental block against it, and couldn’t handle the heat of animation. I think for the moment I’m really enjoying bigger scale things, it’s a lot more physical, I’m outside, and there’s the wind blowing on my face, and stuff like that, it’s really nice.

Happy: Animation is a bit too schooly?  

Celeste: It’s just something I can’t wrap my head around. It would be so fun to collaborate with an animator and do something like that, I think that doing it myself I find far too difficult. I respect people who have the patience for it.

Happy: That kind of long-winded process would definitely take the spontaneity out of things. 

what the fuck is this

Happy: Do you listen to music when you work? Fav bands at the moment?

Celeste: Yeah, I listen to music all the time when I work I love it, it’s one of the most important things to my process, if I want to be in a certain mood, I really enjoy putting lyrics in works, there’s a lot of poetry, and craft involved in all of that. And obviously, a lot of writing is a part of what I do. So music is really important to me.

Happy: Do you have a Spotify playlist?

Celeste: Actually, I don’t, I should make one, but I’m also embarrassed about sharing my music, like every time I make a new playlist, I put it on private right away, because it’s always like some Pilot song, or ELO, listening to the same five songs on repeat. I go through different phases with what I listen to and at the moment, I’m going through a Daryl Hall and John Oates phase, good 80’s bands, they are really fun to listen to. And other times I go straight into the emo kind of Mitski mode, it’s always dependent on what kind of thing I want to produce, and what kind of mood I want to get into. 

I think the music I’m listening to while I draw is often even more important than my environment. I’ve never felt too inspired by landscapes and locations but music is so good at sparking something emotionally and setting a tone. I like a really large range of music but when I get into a certain musician or band I play their music to death. I remember going through a breakup and all I wanted to do was sit around and draw about it- I think I listened to Amy Winehouse strictly for about 3 months during that time. Recently I went through a big nostalgic Pulp phase… my mum had their album ‘This Is Hardcore’ in her CD collection when I was a kid. I love albums and songs with stories in them. The way that musicians marry lyrics and music together is very fascinating to me, I think it’s a big part of why I like to use a mixture of words and drawings the way I do. 

Happy: We’ve seen some great collaborations, some really nice jumpers from Wah Wah, your work suits a lot of different mediums. 

Celeste: Wah Wah rocks, they’re great. I absolutely love all of those jumpers, they’re just incredible.

Happy: Do you have a jumper?

Celeste: Yeah, I’ve got a jumper.

Happy: Travel plans? Anywhere warm on the agenda?

Celeste: I’m travelling in September, to Copenhagen, for a Design event that I’ve been invited to, I think it will be semi-warm there, I’ve never been before. From there I plan to go to Amsterdam and Paris, so hopefully, I’ll scoop up a little bit of the dregs of warmth, I’m pretty excited about that. Fingers crossed. 

Happy: We hope it goes well, we are super excited to share your new book.


What The Fuck Is This (Pan Macmillan) is out now.

Interviewed by Tammy Moir.

Photos supplied.