Exit Space: An Inside Look

“I think [the mural] reflects the history of design influence on the city, being a modern rendition of the traditional floral pattern” -Ouizi

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Ouizi at the UICA in front of her unfinished mural

by Meg Morrow • photography by Victoria Upton

Recently added and sprawling across the side of the Grand Rapids Ballet Company is a beautiful, nearly complete mural by Detroit artist Louise Chen. In terms of her art, she goes by Ouizi (pronounced wee-zee), and her fabulous contribution to Grand Rapids’ artistic culture is a sight to behold.

“I wanted to make something that was visually impactful on that large scale, but was appropriately delicate to complement the activity going on inside,” Ouizi said of her inspiration for the mural. “I painted a lot of ballet skirt-looking flowers in very bright, fun colors against a high contrast dark gray background.”

Ouizi’s artwork was scouted by the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA) as the newest edition to the Exit Space Project (ESP). The project, according to UICA, is “a dynamic experiment carried out by contemporary artists who investigate ideas, images, and conversations within public space.” Ouizi is the fifth artist to contribute to ESP.

Taking UICA’s influence on the project into account, “I’ve incorporated the Pantone colors of the year that are featured currently in an exhibit at UICA,” Ouizi said.

“I think [the mural] reflects the history of design influence on the city, being a modern rendition of the traditional floral pattern,” she added. Ouizi has done murals all across the world; from Brooklyn to Los Angles, Detroit to Shanghai, Iowa City to Richmond, Virginia.

“My earliest memory is watching my grandpa draw a tree, and he used all the different shades of green in the crayon set to color the leaves,” Ouizi said. She knew she wanted to be an artist since that moment, first thinking that she may take her talents to the fashion design world, but was later intrigued by the world of illustration thanks to a high school art teacher.

After high school, Ouizi attended the University of California Santa Cruz and went on to receive a Bachelor of Arts in drawing and printmaking. In order to get where she is today, as a well renowned artist, she said, “I moved to Detroit, worked really hard and showed up to jobs.”

In order to turn art into a sustainable business, Ouizi is “constantly making work and building a reputation for the quality of work.” According to her, “One of the reasons the business aspect of my practice is successful, I think, is because I work rather fast, so I am able to produce a lot in a short amount of time and people are attracted to that.”

Considering the grand scale of the mural—it covers eight different walls—Ouizi’s speed to create such an incredible piece just adds to the awe it inspires. On average, a mural takes her about a week.  The mural is an ArtPrize entry titled UICA Exit Space. The remaining two walls at 341 Ellsworth Avenue SW, will be completed during ArtPrize Eight. Visit the mural, meet Ouizi and see her finish the installation with a bucket and spray paint, September 27 to October 3.

Her process is simple and further impresses on her natural skill as an artist. “I start with a quick brainstorm, just allowing myself to generate an image in my head without thinking too hard,” Ouizi said.  “Then when I have an image, I sketch it out roughly. If I haven’t already, I’ll come up with a color palette and fill it in.”

Once she starts her drawing, besides her original sketch, Ouizi free hands her murals. “I paint it directly onto the wall without sketching or projecting, with some drawings of individual flowers/plants for reference. There is very little revision to the original sketch, I like to go with my first instinct,” she said.

If you’re interested in viewing Ouizi’s art further, go to her website, LouiseChen.com, or follow her on Instagram @0uizi.

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Ouizi’s finished piece that covers eight different walls

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