Art on the Street: A Q&A with Oui Zi

Toledo Local Features  |  By Kelly Thompson  |  09/06/2016

I first noticed Detroit mural artist Oui Zi’s work at Astro Coffee in Detroit this past July—a huge, breathtaking swath of flowers that took over one wall, and that possessed color and movement like I’d never seen in a street art piece. 

For the past decade or so, murals have brightened an increasing number of buildings and corridors in Toledo’s metro area. Funded by the Greetings From Toledo project, artist Louise Chen, or Oui Zi, has completed the large mural at the Handmade Toledo building on 18th and Adams. We chatted briefly about her background in the field, her future plans and what inspires her art. — KT

Can you talk about a few of your past projects?

Recently, I completed two large scale projects; The Grand Rapids Ballet building and the rail beautification project in Cleveland, OH. These are some of the largest projects I have worked on involving civic participation. I would be pleased to do more work like this in the future.

What is your background in art?

When I was very little, my grandfather would gather all of the green art supplies in the house and draw trees for me. My mother would make all my clothes by hand when I was young, she's a very talented seamstress and crafter. My dad was passionate about prototyping and always found inventive ways to fix things. Hand-crafting has always assumed a large role in my life, and it's usually fueled by resourcefulness. In terms of education, I have a bachelor’s degree from UCSC [University of California Santa Cruz] in drawing and printmaking.

Why murals?

It sort of fell into my lap! When I came to Detroit for the first time, I was involved in many collaborative projects, including mural painting. This went so well that I was asked to create more. I painted my first solo mural in Detroit's Eastern Market and the work has never stopped since then. This practice also lends to my love for engaging with people and fostering community. Whenever I go to a new place to paint, I find that I get to know the people who are directly affected by the mural, just by being at the site every day for a week. People stop and talk to me, ask me questions, sometimes they even bring snacks. I have made a lot of new friends this way in different cities. Wherever I go, I try to immerse myself in the community around me, so I quickly start to feel at home.

Do you have any future projects in the works?

I always have a lot going on in my life, much of which is unrelated to murals! In terms of murals, I have something in the works with the City of Detroit, but I cannot comment on the details at this moment. I am also working on a group show in New York in spring, the details for which are yet to be determined. Some personal projects of mine include but are not limited to; renovating my warehouse in Detroit to become a shared studio/multi-use fun having space. I am also working on a few local food and plant-based projects.

Are murals your main focus, or are there other branches of art that you are passionate about?

Currently it is the form of art that I do the most of, but I have done a lot of things in the past. I enjoy making things with fabric, clothing, tapestries, ritual ornaments, flags, etc... I also like creating installations and working with wood and metal. The act of creating and expressing myself through new and unconventional mediums is something that brings me a lot of satisfaction.

What inspires you most?

Floral patterns and problem solving.

Above: Oui Zi's work in the Hare Krishna House, Ypsilanti, MI. Photo: