A year ago, I put together my first solo exhibition called Carry On at Goodspace gallery. This was the centrepiece, Sapience, a huge scroll of drawing paper measuring at about 3 metres long and somewhere over a metre high.
The bust on the right stands at about eye level for me. The drawing was a combination of fountain pen ink and painting ink (with a combination of brushes and bamboo ink dip pens), brush pen, pencil and one of my favourite pens of all time: the Uni-ball Eye. More on that later.
While I was working on Sapience, I couldn't actually roll out the entire drawing in my apartment because I didn't have enough floorspace. I worked on it in sections, with a very rough pencil flow outline and a focus in the centre of the drawing. Since I focused on each section quite separately, I ended up throwing an incredible amount of personal detail into each bit, and I'd like to share some of them with you.
The original idea was based around hindsight, or a conversation between present and past Annies. I wanted very much to layer up this part of the drawing a lot more than I ended up doing, but maybe I'll still take this out one day and continue to work on it, but it quickly became something other than a present day Annie self portrait.
I have been very attached to hand imagery since I was but a wee teen. Drawing eyes was a lot more common than I had realised when I was younger, but I was also very into line work and hands. When I started drawing in inks, line work became much more important to me than every before, somehow.
When I was studying in China as a child, I had used ink blocks to make my own inks for some reason that I no longer remember. I remember the smell of fresh ground up ink and the feel of the brush quite vividly, which felt important because I don't remember very much about that part of my life at all. I'd have said it might have been a calligraphy class, but I think we actually used ink pretty often. When I picked up inks again in graduating high school, it didn't smell the same anymore.
In my first year of uni I accidentally bought fountain pen ink for a class one day, and when I went to dilute it the different colours in the black separated on the page and I was smitten. I've been mainly using a combination of fountain pen ink and painting inks (mainly Indian inks) ever since.
The swirled dash at the centre of this section of the drawing is a person. I don't mind if they don't know that it's them. I won't go into why they're in it, but it's important to me to acknowledge that they're important in this.
Something else I had also focused heavily on in high school were the cloud depictions in older Chinese ink paintings. I will always associate the swirls with my favourite little asshole deity: Nezha (right next to my second favourite, more well known asshole "deity": Sun Wukong, aka the Monkey King). Since I looked at so many Chinese ink paintings, I also noticed a lot of the hand gestures, which have translated into my hand drawings over the years. There's something about how the thumb and pinky fingers act and pose separately from the rest of the hand that keeps drawing my eyeballs.
About a year after university graduation, I started drawing flowers to destress. We were encouraged to not draw things just to draw things throughout my degree, so I had stopped drawing for fun for a long time until one day in a moment of true stress, I left my work station and just drew pages and pages of bouquets. It felt like a rebellion. I still find it relaxing now.
I mentioned this before, but the Uni-ball Eye is hands down my favourite drawing pen of all time. I was given a handful by my art teacher in high school, I think? For a few years I was only using the micro size (which oddly produces a thicker line than the fine sized pen), but now that I buy my own pens, I use both sizes rather excessively. I adore this pen to the point where I've always said that once I figure out how to get over my fear of needles, I will get this drawing tattooed on me.
I really do love Chinese ink painting clouds, you guys.
The shading in the hair was another uni related rebellion technique, which is odd to think of now that uni rebellion isn't really relevant to my day to day anymore, but even a year ago I was actively struggling with bad habits that I had learned there.
Hair has also been a huge part of my visual identity for a long time. I remember entire sections of my life by what haircut I had at the time, which (again) isn't really as relevant now as it used to be since I've landed on a good hair shape for a while, but in my most turbulent years (where I have patchy memory at best) I would change my hair every few months. It was too dark to bleach in order to dye it (and I was also living in a very strict household at the time), so I settled on self initiated styling and cutting. I've been mostly cutting my own hair since I was about 13 or 14.
I probably worked on this collection of work for 2 solid weeks, from agreeing to fill in the slot to doing the show. I wasn't working regularly at the time, and it was also during Zine Season (I did both MCA Zine Fair and Otherworlds in 2019 while making art for this solo show somehow) so I probably remember a lot less about May 2019 as I'd like.
It's easy to say something like the dark bits are all depression and the light bits aren't, but I think it'd be more accurate to just say that I genuinely do feel like my brain has a little coating of thoughts separating my true self from the outside world. I feel protected by the way I view the world. I've coped by building these odd cloud walls around me, and have grown to know and understand the clouds so that they're not as scary or uncontrollable as they used to be. It's been a really long journey to where I am now.
Carry On was an incredible experience to put on. One year down the line, I'm still very proud that I could put on a show and air out all my trauma and mental health art and have my friends and have strangers come to look at it. Some people even bought pieces. Maybe one day I'll put on a second part to the show and call it Carry On, Annie Huang: The Carrying on. Maybe not.
Only time will tell!