New York-based artist Maiyashu delves into the relationships between people and their hometowns in I Will Always Be Here, a stunning new picture book that balances fantasy, whimsy, and mature reflection.
What do you picture when you think of home? A building, your bedroom, or even just a feeling? It's a theme that author and illustrator Xinyue Chen, AKA Maiyashu, explores to great effect in their latest picture book, I Will Always Be Here.
Running at 68 pages, this wordless picture book reflects on people's relationships with their hometowns, especially through the lens of individuals who can no longer return to them. Is 'home' still there when it's gone for good, and how can people carry non-existent homes with them for the rest of their lives? All of these ideas are deftly handled in a story that powerfully contrasts the fantastical with reality.
For Maiyashu, this picture book is particularly relatable. "This story is inspired by my experience of migration in China and leaving China," they explain. "I hope it will resonate with readers with similar experiences."
Having originally studied printmaking at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, Maiyashu would soon find themselves on the other side of the planet, shifting their artistic studies from a fine art background and taking a more illustrative approach.
"To enter the Central Academy of Fine Arts, I spent many years of my life learning traditional and academic painting," they reveal. "Although I later realised I was not passionate about fine art, this experience shaped my art practice greatly. I still prefer working on paper much more than working digitally. Nowadays, I mainly work with a variety of watercolours and colour pencils, after I experimented with many different media during my undergrad years."
This feeling of displacement, not only in terms of space but also discipline, can be seen throughout I Will Always Be Here. In its pages, readers are taken on a three-part journey following a little girl as she explores the magical, glowing factory that has appeared in her hometown.
"She always visited it at night until her family decided to move to another city," adds Maiyashu. "Her life went on a different track since then. Fifty years later, she finally went on a journey back to the factory in her memory…"
Upon following the roads and train tracks back to her old hometown, the little girl – now a woman – is greeted with the ruins of where the factory once stood. But rather than ending on a downbeat note, Maiyashu shows her revisiting her youth and running around the factory floor that she loved so much.
As well as its poignant story, part of what makes I Will Always Be Here so moving is its incredible art style. Maiyashu expertly plays with colour and composition to tell their story, with certain pages appearing to glow with the warmth of the factory furnace, while others use multiple panels to effortlessly communicate the sense of exploration and amazement.
Unsurprisingly, it's a skill that has been a long time in the making: "In 2020, I made my first picture book by hand and realised I wanted to create more illustrations and books," says Maiyashu. "Later, I moved to New York and studied at SVA’s MFA Illustration program. Since then, I’ve made several books with my own stories and illustrations, and I’ve been working as a freelance illustrator."
To read the full story, head over to Maiyashu's website, where they have generously uploaded scans of the whole thing to read for free, as well as provide behind-the-scenes insight in the form of studies and dummies.
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