Ahmed Ezzat’s artwork has been turning heads for all the right reasons. Popping with vibrancy and playfulness, his diverse body of work, is reminiscent of both Andy Warhol and Banksy’s art, mixing pop art with activism. eniGma’s Rana Attia sat down with Ezzat to learn more about his artistic journey and the ideas behind his paintings.
A graduate of business school and a banker for 35 years, Ezzat’s life was all about figures and revolved around a nine-to-five job, with painting a comforting pastime after a difficult week; that is until he started to post his artwork on social media. The incredibly positive feedback his art received, led Ezzat to seriously consider devoting more of his time to his art. This was further confirmed once people started asking to purchase his creations. “While I have done podcasts and wrote pieces before about issues regarding women or the community, I always came back to art,” says Ezzat.
A self-taught artist without formal training, Ezzat describes himself as a naïve artist. “A naïve artist typically paints with rough brush strokes, a sign of lack of experience. However, across the world, experienced artists have started using a style of faking naïve artistry through paintings,” says Ezzat, who references Frida Kahlo’s work in this context. He elaborates that naïve artistry has been growing lately and shaping into a style of its own.
Inspired by American pop art, particularly the work of artists like Andy Warhol, Ezzat’s canvases discover the meaning of blending two cultures in a modern and colourful setting. He is also known to frequently use cardboard boxes as his canvas. He notes that while this has to do with being eco-friendly, that is not the main reason he uses cardboard. “I see cardboard boxes as being almost perpetual. They are not only everlasting in a sense but are a unique method to share a story; the colour of the cardboard boxes easily resembles the make-up of the human composition, which is one of the reasons I don’t cover them,” he explains, adding, “The cardboard boxes are reflective of past lives and go on to tell other stories.”
In his first exhibition, A Tale to Tell, which took place a few years ago, Ezzat, who considers himself a baby boomer, found inspiration from the post-war period. “This was the period following World War II and the start of prosperity around the world. It’s what I have seen with my own eyes growing up and I displayed that in that exhibition,” says the artist. The exhibition featured a selection of old-time black and white cabs in Alexandria during the summer and winter seasons, infused with pop art. This exhibition hit close to home for the artist as his inspiration was rooted in stories that shaped his upbringing.
Ezzat’s second show, which took place last year, was titled Boudoir. His paintings for Boudoir analysed how and why pictures are hung up on walls of Egyptian houses. “In living rooms, you would find paintings with an ocean background or of a garden, while in bedrooms, paintings of naked women were displayed,” he explains. To modernize this notion, Ezzat utilised fabrics as the background to his compositions, bringing a pop aspect into his work. By mixing elements of the bourgeoise incorporated with pop art, he created a dichotomy that expressed a new mood, similar to the one he had earlier inspired with his use of the cardboard box.
Most recently, Ezzat painted the iconic Magdy Yacoub with his signature cardboard technique for the Enigma’s Covers Reimagined event. “Pop art is defined as an art form for the masses, built on sentimentalism, created with experience and meaning. However, pop art with one basic detail can easily turn into a kitsch creation which can then be classified as propaganda artwork,” he explains. After initially doing the Magdy Yacoub painting in a directly representative method of the cardiologist’s life by drawing a heart and balloons, he went on to change it to what he knows best, using cardboard as the canvas. The resulting painting of Magdy Yacoub is simple yet effective; like Yacoub’s accomplishments, it didn’t need any further embellishments.
Ezzat’s work also includes his Abtal (Heroes) series, featuring paintings of an array of actors on rich and diverse backgrounds, that are uniquely his. “I chose each of these actors because they each played a role that I loved, not because I loved them as actors, per se. For example, you will see Nadia Lotfy in El Nadarah el Sawdaa (The Black Glasses). I was enamoured by those film characters. I just had to paint them,” Ezzat explains. The characters in the Abtal series all hold a special place in the artist’s heart that he needed to put his own spin on their typical appearance.
When it comes to his process, Ezzat explains that all his sketches are done digitally. “This has saved me much time when it comes to elements such as composition and size. A lot of people waste time on these details, instead of on the art itself,” he says. The artist elaborates that preparation time is crucial as it allows more room for the real work to begin and further space for the art to truly shine.
Elaborating on the current art scene in Egypt, Ezzat says, “Art is an independent act, unlike the field of science and research that requires a collective effort. That is why I am not surprised that there are so many talents out there and art is thriving.” He goes on to opine on originality versus authenticity when it comes to creating a project. “Originality is rooted within authorship, in the sense of who comes up with the idea. While authenticity is about realism and genuineness. Therefore, the artist can create something that’s not necessarily new but is well-executed and that’s an achievement in itself,” he explains.
Looking forward, Ezzat notes that he has been experimenting with the silkscreen technique. “This is an old printing method relating to popular art. Instead of creating one photo per week, it allows me to print several. While I use the tedious and old process of stencils, it is the reason I can create several copies of the same painting which lends a hand in creating the pop factor.”