Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday ProFiles: YZ

In the streets of Brazzaville, Congolese boys stop and lock eyes with the giant stoic face watching from the wall. Bangladeshi men pause and look at the camera, oblivious to the visage looming behind them. Commuters in Bamako, Mali, pass by the face as they traverse the city. No matter where you are, YZ is watching. 

Today, YZ works with paint and film, but her earliest creative inklings involved clay. “My parents were potters,” she explains. “I use to hang out in my mother’s workshop doing things with the clay. I still have a few things from my childhood; I really like a little house that I made.” 

YZ and fellow artist Missill started the Open Your Eyes Project in 2003 to highlight otherwise invisible people and places. “YZ, pronounced ‘Eyes’, was inspired by my name, Yseult, and is also linked to the Open Your Eyes Project. When painting portraits, I try to make the eyes very striking in order to catch people’s interest in the street. I try to make the character come alive through their eyes.” 
Since the inception of the Project, YZ’s style has evolved. “It is more minimalist and mature now,” she remarks. “It has a more conceptual meaning today than before and I have a more personal way of creating my artwork, too.” While her style has changed, her fervent desire to communicate with others never wavered. “I want people to be touched by the faces I paint, to feel the emotion each character has to offer, and to relate to those faces,” she insists.  “I want them to remember what they saw. I want them to feel the way I feel when I am actually painting those faces. I want them to be more attentive to their environment.”   
While she doesn’t play favorites, YZ adds that Berlin and New York are excellent bombing locations. “Berlin is still a city under construction,” she says. “There are walls that are just waiting to be bombed. The street art scene is very active and fresh. New York is also one of my favorites. When you get to paint on a rooftop, it can be amazing. I remember painting in Brooklyn on a rooftop and having a beautiful view of a Manhattan sunset.” While she calls the suburbs of Paris home, YZ loves being on the move. “Street art is a good way to visit a city and get in places you would normally never go or meet people you’d otherwise never meet. It’s also a good way to reclaim the space we live in and interact directly with the people.” 
Spreading from the Congo and Mali, to Hong Kong, Germany, and New York, YZ says, “Any place where I’ve painted has been a great experience. Each place has been different and unforgettable: the reaction of the people in Bamako, the size of the painting in Berlin, the location in New York, or the history and impact of Brazzaville.” 

While she’s never participated in a crew, she has collaborated with other French stencil artists. “Being part of a crew can be very motivational,” she insists, “but it can slow you down and encroach on your freedom to do things with whomever you want.” Although flying solo doesn’t have the security benefits of a crew, YZ is fearless. “I’ve never felt unsafe,” she confesses. “But today I ask for permission if I want to do a large-scale painting. I also paint during the daytime as if I am authorized to do so. I don’t want to feel like a vandal out there, so I don't act like am.”

YZ isn’t content to rest on her laurels. When she’s not bombing, she creates documentaries and video art of urban environments. In the future, she’d like to combine her varied interests into a large-scale piece. “I would like to have a real exchange between the mediums of video, street art and music,” she explains. “I want to develop a project as strong as Open Your Eyes and paint in many cities worldwide. Right now I am working on the Project using many different materials like paper, glue, wallpaper, Poska pens, spray paint, earth, and leaves. I also have other ideas in the works.” Planning trips to Bucharest while compiling stills of her paintings into animating films, YZ manages to experiment in spite of her busy schedule. Catch a glimpse of her work in a metropolitan area near you

All photos courtesy of YZ. For more information, visit her website at

Thanks, YZ! I'm looking forward to catching your stuff in the near future. Today, I'll start looking at the post line-up for next week, so send me your work if you want to be a part of it! After work today, I'm off to New York for a Cut Copy show, roaming the streets, and catching up with a pack of my favorite ladies. Have a great weekend and meet back here on Monday!

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