It is a cloudy Saturday midmorning when I meet Hillary Mugizi. He shows up in camouflage shorts and green sneakers with clean white soles and a black jumper zipped to the neck with the sleeves pulled back to the elbows. His tattoo on the right hand is very visible. An image of a mother and her child, a reminder, he tells me, of his dear mother whom he did not have the chance to see. A clock stuck at 6:20 the time he woke up from a coma after a terrible accident he survived. This always reminds him to be grateful for life. “I got a second chance. I have to use it right.” A Christ-like-crown of thorns encircles his elbow. “It was the most painful tattoo of them all.” He says while retracing it like he still feels the pain. A dove with its wings spread out marking an era of a new beginning is another that flying towards his wrist. The hoodie of the jumper rests below the interlocking web that is the twine of his neatly pressed black dreadlocks. His hands are folded in the pockets of the jumper. On seeing me he stretches out his hand to greet me.
Hillary is a Ugandan artist who specialises in vector art. He tells me, vector art is the use of polygonal shapes to form an art piece.
One thing that has stayed clear in Hillary’s mind from the time he was a young boy at school has been his interest in art. He has never wished to be or to do anything else other than this. His is a journey of both passion and profession.
“While at university, I once differed with the lecturer. He wanted all of us to do things like him but I thought different. I decided to pursue the line of difference.”
The lecturer did not welcome the challenge and he had a rough time with Hillary. “It renewed my spirit to work harder and prove my point to him.” Upon graduation, Hillary joined artist friends Kenneth Muhangi, Lovington Kambugu, Max Bwire and Trevor Rukoosa to found Blush Media. His four other colleagues were differently skilled. He had majored in anatomy and design and design became his docket to lead. “Blush is now six years old. We have made our mistakes but have also learnt our lessons.”
The Ezi way out?
At the beginning of 2018, Hillary decided to concentrate on his solo projects specialising in vector art, rebranding himself as “Ezi”, a moniker he fronts in all his artistic endeavours.
“Ezi is a special name to me,” he emphatically states with a brightness in his eyes, “My second name Mugizi has a similar end rhyme with Bwomezi, my late mother’s name. I decided to use the last three letters of her name as my business moniker. The name Ezi however also rhymes with my approach to life. I prefers to be easy with life.” He poses. His eyes raised above his bowed head to let me take it in. This is seen in the way he signs off his writings with a #BeEzi hashtag. “I wanted a name that would stand the test of time. A name that would cause me to give my best while doing my work. This name Ezi speaks greatness to me.”
Unlike many other pieces of art that have a tendency of looking alike given the manner in which they are designed, Ezi’s is very different. “Every piece of art I have made is composed of lines and angles. I approach my drawing from the perspective of symmetry, using lines to make shapes.” He explains as he draws imaginary lines on the table. “I morph traditional drawing techniques with modern digital design technology. All my work is drawn on a computer.”
One of Hillary’s roles at Blush was to create designs. This pushed him to have a deeper understanding and appreciation of Adobe Illustrator, a tool he used to polish his vector art idea. “I’d been designing before but not as intense as when the role came in. I count a decade as a practising designer.”
“I’ve always been driven by the quest to be and do more a drive that was inculcated in me by my art teacher at St. Henry’s Kitovu, Mr. Henry Kasujja. ‘You’ve the power to create. Artists are gods with a power to create. Use your power.’ These words have never left me.” Ezi with half-open eyes recalls of the times, “Mr. Kasujja would rip your art piece apart and ask you to draw it again. We didn’t understand why he did that. It’s now that it all makes sense.” Ezi has a soft composure as he narrates his experience. His thumb and index finger are often gripped together like he’s drawing something imaginary. “This unwritten principal has helped me to be the person I am today without apology.”
Among Ezi’s more famous works that have bought the brand internet fame in Uganda is a piece of legislator Robert Kyagulanyi alias Bobi Wine following his election as member of parliament for Kyaddondo East in 2017.
“This came like a dream to me. Having had part of my childhood in Kamwokya, Bobi Wine who was once demonised was now glorified. He turned his image all around.” In his art piece, Ezi paints a portrait of the legislator wearing a black jacket with a white shirt and a black necktie. His eyes are open staring back into the eyes of the viewer. His hair is lightly trimmed on the side than in the middle. Prisms in the shade of the National flag colours of black, yellow, red form a coating on the painting portraying an image of a statesman. A new brand that Bobi Wine had acquired upon becoming a legislator.
This was followed by the painting of a famous Ugandan musician Mowzey Radio, who passed away in February 2018. At the time of his passing, Radio had already made a request to the artist to have a vector of him and his family. Unfortunately, Hillary was out of the country. On his way back, he learnt that Radio had passed on. What he thought would be a simple sketch of this man he revered turned out to be his most viral picture of the fallen 33-year-old former member of the Goodlyf music crew. The painting left him in awe. First, it all happened in a snapshot. While waiting in Atlanta for his connecting flight to Amsterdam, he drew the portrait and shared it on his social media platforms. By the time he touched down at Amsterdam, the portrait was trending online. Later on, the image was printed on t-shirts which were sold to the mourners at Radio’s burial. “In that image, I captured Radio’s signature look of black shades and his goatee.”
That is not all. “On the 25th coronation of the Kabaka of Buganda, I painted the image of Kabaka Mutebi on the throne donning the royal red regalia with his golden crown on his head.” He breaks into a shy smile assuring me, “The painting was used as the backdrop at the coronation anniversary. Today it hangs at the Kabaka’s palace.”
Ezi and Beyond
Interestingly, about his work, Ezi is convinced he has just started.
“I have just started. I want to bring hope to open spaces using my paintings. I have barely scratched the ground. I intend to go into massive production of the EZIWEAR brand. I’m in advanced stages of producing architectural designs as wells as fashion. So far, I have already started working on 3D printing of my designs as I build a resource avenue for the school of design I intend to set up.”
He has decided to concentrate on nurturing the art. Every day he has to draw something. He believes the continuous process of drawing a piece a day will yield the best results he has ever needed. He looks forward to a time when his piece of work will be admired by many but afforded by a few. But before he can get there, he is doubling his effort by every passing day, working longer hours creating new pieces, reading wider and learning from other people’s experiences. “There’s a lot of things I don’t know that I need to learn. And there never seems to be enough time.” He is quick to remind me, “I’m not doing this for recognition rather to master the art form.”
Every day he awakes with an intention to be a better version of the student Mr Kasujja trained him to be. He works longer and harder and the results are written all over the place. When he is not painting, Ezi is working out at the gym where he gets to sweat out all his stress while boxing.
“I wish people could take a risk to believe in artists. They should be given a chance to prove themselves. There’s so much we can do to improve the image of the country especially through tourism.”
With a heart that beats for the children, the EZI CARE Foundation is already in the offing to build up the creative minds of children in the refugee areas. All this work calls for his attention. For now, there is so much he can do as an individual.
Ezi digs into his voice and tells me softly, “Everyone should find the belief in themselves to know that they are the best version of themselves they could ever be. Do something every day to make yourself better. Every day, I wake up to change the world one piece at a time.”
This article was first published on LeoAfrica Review