Published in Issue 3 of Mous. Magazine (print), June 2017.
There is one thing I notice whenever I watch Grimes’ ‘Flesh Without Blood’ music video.
It’s a busy six-minute affair in California’s iconic Madonna Inn, with time-travelling angels and vampires in Victorian ball gowns playing tennis. A woman in a brown suit dances behind Grimes, effortless and spirited, the way most music video extras do. But I notice her before anything else.
“What a look,” I’ll say, as I tug on whoever’s next to me and point out her powersuit, her moves, how she looks like she’d be a really cool friend.
Not many people stand out in the background.
Perhaps this is a strange, superficial way to introduce Canadian artist and zine-maker Tallulah Fontaine – as the background extra in a Grimes music video – but it’s a coincidence I can’t get over. The more I research her work, the more I realise her involvement in so many of my favourite things – uncredited illustrations saved to my camera roll, an album cover in my Most Played, the beautiful zine in my favourite bookstore.
By the time I interview Tallulah, I’ve put a face to her work and a name to her face. (Her real name is Kristina – Tallulah was an online moniker that stuck because her parents were strict about social media.)
Tallulah’s illustrations are tender, minimalistic depictions of human emotion. There are wistful moments captured in gouache and watercolour, and delicate line drawings perfect for skin. Her portfolio includes artwork for Vice, Refinery29, and her close friends Purity Ring and Grimes (naturally). She also co-created Home Zine with Melbourne artist and Mous. favourite Carla McRae. Her dream clients? “Nick Cave or maybe Angel Olsen,” she says. “And Bjork, obviously. Collaborating with musicians is always my favourite because I love contributing to the music in some way.”
Tallulah balances her time between her Canadian homeland (she’s from Edmonton, Alberta) and the sunshine of California. Right now, it’s the latter. “I just moved back to LA into a house I’m renting in Silverlake,” she says. “It’s been so nice being back here, especially during the winter. California has been super inspiring. They’ve had a ton of rain and everything is so lush and beautiful.”
Her Instagram feed is a crisp collection of her latest work, her picturesque surroundings and a really, really strong appreciation for LA sunsets. It’s envy inducing, no doubt – especially once I learn her average day involves a breakfast smoothie, emails, the farmer’s market, and working from her home studio. “My roommates and most of my friends work freelance, so it’s nice to have people close by that can take a break from work during the day,” she tells me. “At the end of the day, I’ll go to a yoga class, make dinner or grab a drink somewhere in the neighbourhood.”
That’s not to say Tallulah hasn’t worked hard to get to this point. “I was just really obsessed with earning my own money,” she says of her go-getting childhood. “I would make and sell things or babysit or do anything I could until I could be old enough to get a real job. I started working the day I turned 14. I worked at this great punk record store, a bookstore and as a hostess at Chili’s. I used to skip class all the time to pick up an extra shift, which made my parents crazy. It was really important to me to be independent and move out as soon as I could.
“I still really liked my high school, which was a performing arts school located downtown. Looking back now, I feel so fortunate to have gone somewhere that was progressive and accepting of every kind of student. We also had no dress code and kids got away with wearing everything from chain mail to corsets and cat ears, which was amazing. I was really independent and sort of loud and scrappy, mostly I think because I was so tiny compared to everyone else.”
Sure, I want to be friends with Grimes-music-video Tallulah, but pre-pubescent Tallulah sounds fun too. “I was always into things other kids hated like Bette Midler,” she says (now sporting a ‘Bette’ tattoo on her upper arm). “When I was eight, I rented Beaches so many times they just gave it to me. I became really unpopular at sleepovers.”
Not many people stand out in the background, but it comes naturally to Tallulah Fontaine. In a crowded Instagram Explore page, or in the doodled spreads of a zine, you can’t help but be drawn to her emotive, striking interpretations of reality. Flowers and hands and women and heartbreak. You may not know her name yet, or until now, but Tallulah’s work is unmistakable, and unmistakably hers. ♦