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Nowhere To Go But Inward

Even existing in a vast space, one can still feel the pressure from family, community, and society. How would you describe your path to finding yourself?

Pressure was how I felt most of my life, without knowing it. Until about 10 years ago, I was pressured to live up to and meet the expectations of others, and subsequently, I was taught to set the same expectations for myself. Sound familiar? The teaching of generations is hard to break. I wasn’t even aware of such teachings, so I embodied them as a way of living, and was happy doing it. Then it all became too much. It had to come to an end when my form of living did not align with others’ expectations and broke away from social norms. But where could I go when everywhere I looked, I saw mirrors reflecting the expectations that I had grown accustomed to all my life?

I was living my own worst fear. It was devastating coming to this realization in my late 30s. I felt lost and panicked and I couldn’t ask for directions. Who could give me directions for my own path? Family and old friends would love to, I'm sure, but I wasn’t going to go to them.

It was dark for a while.

I initially planned for a diptych called Pressure. I spent a month actively sketching and researching the colors that could represent different aspects of my pressurized life. I planned the composition, and did multiple small studies in ink, watercolor and oil. I was happy with the studies and excited to take them to the big canvases. I took time mixing the paint colors to get to the right shades. I was excited about Pressure. I stayed up late and even got up as early as 4:30 in the morning to work it.

Then, the result was not what I envisioned. There are times when things just don’t work out the way you intended. And this piece of artwork is a perfect example. So, what did I do? I debated between making adjustments so that the two pieces of my diptych worked, or perhaps I should wipe the slate clean and start again. You’ve been there, right? Who hasn’t encountered similar situations in other aspects of life? A work project that must be started all over after two years of dedicated work and interactions with a few hundred people. How about a relationship that no longer served or supported your growth after years of commitment? When do you make the decision to start again?

So, I went back to the drawing table for more thinking, planning and sketching. Ironically, I was living proof of my diptych. I was under the pressure of preparing for my first exhibition and there was little room for mistakes. But I just couldn’t relate to my paintings. The connection wasn’t there, and I couldn’t own them proudly. I couldn’t force it to happen. I wouldn’t be able to tell anyone that I love my artwork with true conviction. Finally, on the evening of March 5th, after setting the two paintings aside for a couple days, I covered my newly painted work with gray paint.

I started the diptych again on new canvases and this is how Nowhere To Go But Inward came to life. And I was in love.



Lily Duval
Lily Duval
Oct 05, 2023

Beautiful work and beautiful, thoughtful write-up on "No Where To Go But Inward" Ann! Love your sentiment and so well said about life, pressure, culture, others' expectation and the importance of looking inward. May you continue to prosper and share your lovely work and deep, provoking thoughts with the world. You are such a blessing!


I fell in love with this diptych the first time I saw it. Reading about your creative process gives it an even deeper dimension. Thank you for these precious details Lam-Anh!

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