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Tallulah Willis’ creatures are peculiar little things: quirky and a little bit mischievous — a bit like Willis herself, one might say. The free-spirited Los Angeles-based artist, 22, is opening her first solo exhibition at the new Beverly Grove art gallery run by Eric Buterbaugh, who has previously shown artists such at Mattia Biagi and Chuck Moffit. Willis, the youngest daughter of Demi Moore — a longtime client of Buterbaugh’s — and Bruce Willis, has known the florist and perfumer since she was 9.
Willis has drawn since she was young, and she took it up again after leaving rehab after a well-documented battle with addiction; she now is sober. But a niggling voice inside her head — she calls it a “goblin” — told her she couldn’t pursue a career as an artist. She finally was able to quell those demons, titling the show “Please Be Gentle” as an homage to her newfound ability to lighten up on herself.
“For me, each incremental move toward ownership of identity of artist feels a bit like one step forward, three steps back,” she told THR via email. “Often after I allow myself a temporary break from the ever-present monologue of dissatisfaction running through my head, the feeling swells back with a vengeance threefold in power. I know I am by no means singular in this unfortunate type of operating, thus it is very important to me to express these feelings and highlight the vital-ness of kindness from within to anyone who encounters my work, including myself.”
The drawings — she describes them as “solitary, ‘squidgey’ doodle friends” — have a Shel Silverstein-esque, otherworldly quality. One image contains a blubbery, po-faced creature with four breasts; in another, two toothy mouthed monsters protrude their tongues at each other for a beastly make-out session.
“I do think each has their own personality, but it is important for me that the viewer create their own interpretation of what that personality is,” Willis explained of the creatures. “For me, the two figures with the tongues felt like that one old couple who have been together 60-plus years with a roaring sex life and each day look at each other with a reverence of teenage infatuation.”
As for Silverstein, the beloved children’s author, poet and songwriter (he was nominated for an Academy Award in 1990 for his song “I’m Checkin’ Out” from the film Postcards from the Edge) who passed away in 1999, clearly left a mark on Willis.
“One of my earliest and clearest memories is asking to have Falling Up read to me before bed,” she said. “I understood the friends that he created — they became my friends. His conception of these odd little people-creatures was so beautiful, and I couldn’t fill my eyes with enough.”
Willis hopes to publish her own children’s book one day, one that teaches the importance of self-love and boundaries — things she has struggled with, she said, thought she’s now content with doodling on the floor of her living room with an “arsenal of Red Bull, ABBA’s Gold album on repeat and a sprinkling of micron pens spilling out of a stained grey suede pouch.”
Making the work was the easy part, but when Buterbaugh approached her about showing her drawings, which she’d heretofore posted on Instagram, she knew she had to make a decision. “To be honest I didn’t think I was ready, and when Eric asked me back in September I was so nervous, but equally just as chicken shit to say no,” she said. “It was not the first time he had asked, but this time he knew I was likely to let an incredible opportunity slip away because of insecurity and fear, so it was more of him letting me know I was to do a show than asking. Which I continually appreciate him for doing. Him believing in me that strongly gave way to the spark of trust I had in myself and that carried me through to complete this project.”
Willis credits her family with being there for her, and encouraging her in her artistic endeavors. Her sisters, Scout and Rumer, each have praised her art on their own Instagrams. “My family has been incredibly supportive and pushed me when I needed pushing the most,” she said. “If not for them I would have given up a long time ago.”
Tallulah Willis, “Please Be Gentle,” is on view from Jan. 6 – Feb. 12, 2017 at Eric Buterbaugh Gallery, 8271 Beverly Blvd.
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