Mazi Dennis Mazi is a gifted contemporary artist, who is employing his creative skills and flares to reveal universal principles of success in his paintings. Dennis grew up in his hometown doodling and scribbling drawings of trees and forests he used to see while accompanying his parents to farm. Having discovered his passion for arts and gift for creativity, Dennis later went to the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT), Enugu State, where he studied Fine and Applied Arts, specializing in creative painting. He held his debut solo art exhibition — The Oracle of Creativity, in 2011. This show would position Dennis as a high value contemporary artist, with his unique style of textural rendition, and a blend of media, interwoven to produce creative products. He speaks on his motivation and style in this interview.
Some people get into art by choice, chance or coincidence, how was it for you?
I believe art is a calling. This statement is corroborated by a portion I saw in the Holy Bible (Exodus 30:35). As a calling, some discover theirs early, while others, not so early, chance upon theirs by accident. For me, I believe I was born to impact the world through art and creativity. It’s something that started way back in my kindergarten years, when our teacher then, Sir Chima, asked us to draw a goat. My drawing then, on a black slate, was the talk-of-the day. It was such a beautiful childhood rendition, doodled with some sharp lines and curves. I cannot ever forget the unexplainable, mysterious feeling of joy, happiness and fulfilment I experienced that day. Although art is the nature of man from God because it consists of a man’s power to think and to create by thinking; art, however, is a calling. You know you are called to create when the thought of creating something pulsates in your mind constantly, and wouldn’t let you go; when the creative fire within your spirit keeps flaming up with ideas of how things work or how to make things, or in my own case, how to paint a specific work.
You’ve done well as a creative person and also gone a step ahead, telling and teaching people on creativity regardless of the challenges you face, what informed your decision of writing?
Writing, for me, is a form of art. It’s a means of self expression, as all arts are. It is a vehicle for thought expression, a means of documentation, information, education, and a creative channel of being an influence on the minds of the society. Above all, writing tends to immortalize the existence of man. I use my writing to document my body of knowledge and works, to transport my thoughts to others, to ensure my works are passed on to the next generation, ad infinitum. Writing complements my paintings. I write from my vast experiences and lessons learned through voracious reading of the works of great minds across the history.
Since my preteen years, I have always had this compelling drive to write, due mainly to thoughts that course through my mind at different times. Oftentimes, I would guess at an object, colour, or hear someone say something. Bam! That would start a train of thought that, when pursued, would reveal valuable insights that are helpful for man’s upwards climb on the ladder of progress. I write to leave some piece of me behind. A man should not die the day he is dead. He should continue to live in the good works that he did while alive. I write to share my thoughts with humanity, to inspire mankind,
You’ve been an artist for some decades now, some artists struggle identifying and sticking to a particular style which defines what they do, how was it for you?
I have been in their shoes. Style is seductive. You can never truly know who you are until you become consistent at the work you do with your art, allowing your true creative voice a chance to cry out. The easiest way to discovering your style, or your true voice, is to work consistently. It is your consistent and diligent work that reveals your true originality, or your core essence. Style doesn’t come easy. It’s rather an outgrowth of a process, honed over a period of consistent productions, not easy to adhere to, too boring to live with, but a sure recipe for recognition and commercial success. That said, style is a distinguisher of a creative talent and skill. It’s a professional approach to speaking a language of uniqueness. Style creates an influence. It develops fans and markets a talent. Somehow, I still struggle to maintain a specific style until lately, due mainly to the kind of thoughts and ideas that pulsate in my mind. However, to be distinctive in the marketplace is a key to success for every creative.
Why is it important for a visual artist to be known for a defined and unique style?
Style can be seen, not only as a means to define or recognize you (the artist), but more importantly, as a telling contribution an artist brings into the industry and marketplace that he serves. Every visual artist should strive to distinguish themselves in some specific style of rendition, even of subject matter. This helps to know what and why the artist should be sought for. Moreover, it makes the artist an authority and influence in his or her professional space. Style hones your specialisation into a high value, efficient practice. In addition, style is a cure to obscurity. When you are different, no one will mistake you for another. And finding your style is finding your financial strength. (This, too, I have extensively dealt with in another book I am writing titled ‘An Artist Cannot Fail’.)
Some artists doing really well today are self-taught without any formal art training, what does this say about the practice of art in Nigeria?
Art, generally, is an inborn ability. It’s God’s nature in man. It’s the divine creative DNA built into every man or woman born to planet earth for creativity and productivity. Therefore, it’s something that can be self-developed, especially if one cultivates the interest and passion to do so. And to do this, one requires self-discipline, diligence, concentration and a determination to go full length with it until one’s mental faculties for creativity are developed.
However, self-development cannot substitute for academic education. Although I am a firm believer in personal development or self-cultivation, nevertheless, I also know the value and benefit of formal training in helping one broaden his playing field and creative space. Self-training leads to ‘sabificate’ and originality, as formal training leads to a certificate. To create, or produce a creative work needs a ‘sabificate,’ but to operate within an institutionalized space, you need a certificate or certification. So, both sides of the coin have their respective value imprint.
What will you describe as a fulfilling career?
Some get their fulfilment by bagging a degree, others by exhibiting extensively; while others by making a fortune. For me, a fulfilling career is being able to give the world what God sent you here to do. It is being able to convert the seeds of one’s potential and talents into a harvest of creative products that positively impact the world. A fulfilling career is being used for the purpose you were made. Money, fame, and all other mundane rewards are merely the concomitants of having fully lived out your purpose in obedience to God, and service to humanity. This is what unlocks the indescribable effervescence of inner joy and happiness that bestows goodness upon one who thus lived his life.
Artists set out to achieve several things with their works, what will you describe as the best reaction or satisfaction you got from any of your works?
In creative work, the most satisfying thing for most artists like me is to have made, or make something that you care about, to have productized the content of your mind in the way that you dream and feel it; to create something that brings joy to others, that fills a need in their lives. Something that solves a specific problem or bestows a particular benefit to them. Just as God felt happy and good after He had first created the world and lighted it, so do artists. When you speak your mind through your work, there is a great sense of happiness in that.
Moreover, being able to inspire others through your works brings great satisfaction. I believe that every art solves a problem. To have used one’s art to solve some definite or perceived problems of others is a big source of satisfaction for the artist. I try to create arts that satisfy the specific needs of my target markets. Moreover, I published a book in 2020 to that effect – Solving Problems Brings Wealth. It’s a very important read for every creative, both established and upcoming artists. The book reveals how to use your creative potential and artistic talents to solve definite problems in society and be rewarded financially for doing so.
The book discourages joblessness and unemployment by showing you how you can create jobs with your creative abilities and employ both yourself and others. In sum, my art, my paintings, and my writing champion one purpose – to inspire the world and add value to their physical, intellectual, and spiritual aspects; to enrich their heart, home, and lives. That is a big reward for me, besides the economies.