Tallulah Willis is good at turning negatives into positives.
As the youngest daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, she's lived out most of her personal struggles in the public eye. When she was only 13, she was diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder, continuing to struggle with depression through her teens. Her troubles reached a peak in college when she began using drugs as a means of coping with her emotions. By the time she was 20, she found herself on the cover of tabloid magazine Star alongside her sisters, Scout and Rumer, with the headline "Drugs, Arrests and Dangerous Sex."
She went to rehab soon after and began drawing to distract herself; that's when she became Buuski, the illustrator with a penchant for creepy-looking characters with exaggerated proportions and beady eyes.
Now 24 years old, well into her sobriety and career as an artist, Willis acts as a sort of informal spokesperson for the struggles of a public life, readily mocking tabloids to her almost 200,000 Instagram followers, tagging her sisters in paparazzi photos and including funny captions. She's open about her self-doubt, her sobriety, and her art. She dedicates photos of herself to everyone who called her ugly and shares intimate photos with her parents. Long story short, she has nothing to hide - and "absolutely no space for anything but gentility, kindness, and compassion."
I spoke to the young artist about her work (which includes a clothing line and more than a few tattoos), the pressures of social media and her dream collaboration.
First, I need to know: why the nickname “Buuski”?
Buuski was an evolution of a childhood nickname that took more fluid variations originating from lulah boo ( boobie, boosker, booski) my mom mainly used booski. It sort of fell to the wind as I began my quest of adolescent autonomy, which ironically brought me to prizing homogeneous aesthetics and completely disowning anything that created an individualized aesthetic. I offhandedly told my high school boyfriend in like 2012 about my old nicknames, and that my mama used to call me that, and without skipping a beat he said “oh yeah, of course, your Buuski. I always have to credit him for making it the double U’s.
From there it sort of took on a life of its own and she/it/they became my best form and alter ego. For a while, I thought everything good within me or created by me was Buuski, and all the negative picked up with Tallulah. We’ve sort of melded closer to one entity now.
You’ve said that your illustrations are a direct byproduct of your sobriety. Do you remember an Aha moment in particular, when you realized that art was your outlet?
The two will always be correlated. The moment I think came from a point when I wholly and truthfully decided that no one had to see what I was making. I had nothing to prove, eradicating the need to meet some amorphous standards I believe existed. I had for the first time in my life allowed my self-judgment vortex to mute and just used my hands. I did it because I enjoyed it, it was a distraction, it was a way to understand all the newness and overwhelm I was feeling. When you get sober, you tune back into the frequency of your emotions and hits you like a ton of fucking bricks. Sensory overload and everything feels cranked to 11.
You’ve been open about your sobriety and insecurities online and in the press - why do you think it’s so important for you to be transparent about it?
I feel a certain comfortability discussing my experiences, past, and current. I know that is not the same for everyone. If my ease to broach my story on a wide-scale audience can lessen the burden of even one person's pain, I know it is my duty to keep on doing so. I have learned so much from others journeys around me, and I would just like to do the same. I was born with a build in set of eyes on me, and I would like to make the absolute best use of that, pointing them all in directions I believe in.
Your illustrations feature these creepy but cute characters. Who are they inspired by? What are they supposed to represent?
The style in which I draw takes inspiration very heavily from Shel Silverstein, but my creatures come from a very deep place inside me. I have always loved exaggerated proportions and the ugly-cute elements of life. Gremliny, elfy, fantasy tropes from movies of my childhood really solidified the lens which I produce from. They're so foreign and undefined so they lend themselves as really nice vehicles to communicate these universally felt truths.
A lot of people think social media is harmful to their self-esteem. Do you agree? Do you think positive messages are helpful in the long run?
I wholeheartedly agree. I think and have experienced it be detrimental to the psyche and soul. However, it’s an immovable element of our modern society and eliminating it from your life isn’t realistic. It has created these falsified ideals that can confirm one's deepest fears by projecting the grandeur of “other”. Most of the time it is a fast-pass to what is lacking within the self, followed by the feeling of certainty that that makes you wrong.
I do think that there’s beauty to the immediacy of the platform and the potential of visibility when the content is positive. I say all of this with the self-awareness that I check it constantly throughout the day and make certain choices with my content in mind, as in “doin' it for the gram."
What would be your dream collaboration?
I have recently gotten the opportunity to work in the studio with Simon and Niki Haas, wickedly genius artists who I have the honor of calling my friends, and began branching out and pushing my body of work into new mediums. Being in their space, watching their beautiful hive operate, and getting their input on things I’m starting on is sort of my dream collaboration, and I still can’t really believe I’m living it. If the laws of time and space didn’t exist, however, I would have to say creating creatures with Jim Henson. I forever wish I looked like/was Kira the Gelfling.
What is your message to the world for Pride Month? How are you celebrating?
We have absolutely no space for anything but gentility, kindness, and compassion. Sometimes circumstances leave little to none of that in your environment, but if you can, find that within yourself first and foremost and trust that there will be others that feel the same.
I’m celebrating as I would every month of the year and loving my fellow humans and practicing understanding and awareness of struggles I have not personally experienced but have the deepest levels of empathy for. Although I am a little bummed I missed this Tom Of Finland event last week in LA.
Follow Buuski on Instagram.