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Headexplodie on Art As a Way of Making Your Own Friends

Headexplodie, a.k.a. Annie Wong, creates playful fantasies out of clay. Her work can be sweet and colorful, but it also has an edge to it. She recently made a stunning (and slightly spooky) video for our #ConnectedByLemonade project. We spoke with Wong about how she balances fun and delight with the darkness of everyday life.

Tell me a bit about your piece for #ConnectedByLemonade.

I love playing with contrasts like life and death, or cute and grotesque, and have played with a few ideas involving skeletons and skulls in the past. Lemonade gave me the loose parameters of showing an object being ‘covered.’ I pitched the idea of a skeleton that gets slime poured onto it, which turns into flesh and clothing and becomes a fully formed living human (me!)… and then reversing that process by having the flesh melt off, returning to the skeleton.

A still from Headexplodie’s #ConnectedByLemonade commission.

The fact that these are Instagram videos meant the animation would loop, mimicking the cycle of life and death. This sounds so serious and philosophical, but at the end of the day, I just wanted to show a cute girl getting her skin melted off and not being too bothered by it!

You work with stop-motion animation, which must be labor-intensive…

Making things by hand is a great way to get out of my head. I love being able to touch and shape objects with my hands, and using tactile materials opens up a lot of possibilities for experimentation with things like texture, lighting, space, and time.

To me it’s a very playful form of artmaking — to see an everyday, mundane material like Styrofoam packaging and transform it into the walls and roof of a clay house. It’s also like building my own toys or friends. It’s nice to be able to build a puppet, cradle it in my hands, and allow it to hang out in my studio after the project is done (or smoosh it and recycle it into a future puppet!).

Who are a few of your creative heroes, living or dead?

Lewis Mahlmann, the master puppeteer at Children’s Fairyland for 43 years, who I had the honor befriending and working with for several years. He loved puppetry so much and it was humbling to know someone so genuinely in love with the magic of storytelling that he’d cry watching puppet productions of Beauty and the Beast.

Wayne White. Watching Beauty is Embarrassing and seeing how he straddles humor, depression, and highbrow/lowbrow art cultures was really inspiring to me when I was trying to figure out my own story and place in the creative world.

And Yoko Ono, for the way she has blended her life, her art, and her peace activism—and for being a very public example of a female Asian artist who is multidimensional and unashamed and will step up to a microphone and wail with abandon for a solid two minutes.

What’s the first artwork you remember seeing that really blew your mind? What made it so memorable?

Seeing Ruckus Rodeo by Red Grooms at the McNay Art Museum when I was 13 was pretty impactful to me. Art for me up until that point seemed very stuffy and elite and frozen in quiet and cold museums. Ruckus Rodeo invited you you walk inside of the art, which was loud, cartoony, and fun. It might have planted the seed for me that art didn’t just have to be a painting or a sculpture, it could be both—and more.

What advice would you offer to a young artist, illustrator, or animator who is just starting out and trying to make a name for herself?

Treat your creative time as a sacred space for yourself, free from the pressures of creating for an audience or clients. Savor the pleasure of creating work for your own enjoyment and make a lot of work to get a feel for what your preferences are in terms of your ideas and choices of mediums.

I feel like the most creative period of my life was in my teenage years, because I didn’t have to worry about food or shelter. I was fortunate to have a lot of time to myself to make whatever I wanted and listen to music and go see art. I try to tap into that mental space now as an adult, that feeling of endless possibility and experimentation.

Tell me about what you make for yourself, purely as a creative outlet.

It tends to be highly personal and related to whatever story is going on in my life at the moment. For a while, I was painting little diary comics to try to document what was going on during the week, because sheltering in place has really made time tracking very fuzzy.

I made a ‘zine about creating art for the sake of creating art because I went through a period of burnout after hustling so long doing client work. I built an animation called Come Home To Yourself, after a long period of trying to learn how to love myself and be self-compassionate.

You have a strong sense of the absurd, and a bit of a morbid edge — but morbidly whimsical! Is this how you tend to view the world in general?

Absolutely! I’ve had a lot of darkness in my life, and being a creative person has given me the agency to reframe those experiences with lightness, which is I think is just something that’s true — there is light/dark, life/death, joy/grief, and it’s very human to experience all these things, but a lot of times the dominant culture will only present one side of that experience rather than the fuller complex picture.

I operate best from a mental space of fun and delight, but I also don’t want to reject feelings that some might consider being ‘negative’…I want to honor and hold space for those feelings, too. All of these things are valid and should be able to co-exist in the same world.

Check out more of Headexplodie’s work on her website and Instagram, and make sure to follow along with #ConnectedByLemonade!

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