Interview with Haitian Digital Photographer and Artist PhenomenaLewis

Interview with Haitian Digital Photographer and Artist PhenomenaLewis

Lewis Derogene, known as PhenomenaLewis is a multimedia artists who uses photography, performance art, drawing, sculpture, installation art, video art and poetry to speak on the Black experience, mainly being a Black Haitian woman living in the United States and how that is influenced by spiritualism, sociology, politics, psychology and other factors that contribute to being human. 

I used to think I couldn’t live without an artist studio, but here I am still creating without one. Now I realize that I can’t create without life. I’ve always had a passion for art so for as long as I live, I can create.

Let us begin by getting to know you Lewis, can you please tell us more about yourself, where are you from and how did you begin your journey into art.

My name is Lewis Derogene and I am a Haitian born Artist. My artist name is PhenomenaLewis. I chose this moniker for myself after Maya Angelou’s poem “Phenomenal Woman” which I exude with confidence in my art, especially in my self portrait photographs.

At a very young age while I still lived in Ayiti I was surrounded by artists, my family. My mother was and still is a fashion designer, my uncles and aunts are sculptors, musicians and painters. I’ve always been in awe of their raw talents and ability to simply create from their minds with inspiration from their surroundings that I knew since that art was my passion.

 When did you first realize the importance of art in your life?

I realized that art was the career I wanted to pursue despite many people telling me not to in high school. That was the time when everyone had to figure out what they wanted to do, who they wanted to be and what they wanted to study in universities. I received many criticisms against pursuing art where teachers and mentors would tell me to go into the medical or law field, but I stood beside my passion despite constant struggles and difficulties because it makes me happy.

Can you describe the evolution of your artistic style? (Have you always made art with this unique vision or what was your turning point into recognizing this style was your authentic “you”?)

The evolution of my artistic style was from experimentation. I started out as an illustrator and would only draw or paint until I was exposed to other art forms and mediums making me a multidisciplinary artist. So, within my research and experimentation of different disciplines in college at the School of Visual Arts I realized the type of message that is best for me to convey in visual form and what mediums aid the best.
I’m actually in my turning point right now with this new project that I am working on called “Inner Dialogue” which is an extension of my self portraiture using digital photography. Now, with this new project, I am branching back out into my other disciplines such as writing poetry, performance, music composing, mixed media/sculpture and installation art making with the same sense of the sublime in aesthetic and combining afro-futurism with classical painting illusions.

Lewis, Can you tell us about the process of making your work? We want to know a little about the significance and scope of your work. How do you make your work? Are there particular tools/materials/software/technology that you use? Is there a connection between your process and your artwork’s message?

My process is therapeutic. I start off with a note or poem which gives me an overwhelming feeling to grab my camera and start snapping photos. When I do, I feel like I am performing, but only for myself. Then I leave the images in my camera for over 3 weeks before I look at them again. That’s because I’m afraid I’ll ruin the vision attached to the photographs if I begin to edit as soon as I photograph them–it also allows room for change within the vision. When I begin to edit, I use Adobe Photoshop primarily on my IPad because I can get into the details better and I do other edits on my laptop since not all the features are out yet on smaller devices. When I edit I usually remove the background because I plan to add my own. I’ll isolate different sections like garments or my skin to change or deepen the colors. When I blend backgrounds with the foreground, I take the most time because in order for the blending to look seamless, I have to go back and forth with the detail and the overall image.
As far as a connection to my messages with my art process, there certainly is a connection. It’s all right there, my process creates the end result that visually tells my messages.

What is one creative resource you can’t live without?

I used to think I couldn’t live without an artist studio, but here I am still creating without one. Now I realize that I can’t create without life. I’ve always had a passion for art so for as long as I live, I can create.

Who/what inspires you?

Many things inspire me from nature, to spirituality, to psychology, politics, sociology and studies of the sublime to my family, the Bible, Maya Angelou, Rembrandt, Muholi Zanele and much much more.

What piece of advice would you give to young aspiring African digital artists?

Don’t worry about not having fancy equipment to create, use what you have now, start with your phones and later on when you do have money for fancier equipment, you’ll realize you have mastered skills on a device other people will deem impossible.

Finally, Any current projects you can talk about? What is your ultimate dream project that you canʼt wait to work on, or be a part of someday?

I’m looking forward to completing this current project that I’m working on, the timeline that I set up for myself may have to be extended because of the new pieces I plan on adding. This project is called Inner Dialogue and it’s an extension of my self portraiture research. It’s a dive deeper into Afro Cogitatio which is a term I coined meaning to reflect within my Blackness. It’s an exposure of the vulnerability of being a Black woman. It’s a conversation of softness breaking through the stereotypical gaze of being a “strong black woman.” It’s a feeling of being spiritually connected to the unknown. It’s so much more and I’m excited to bring the entire project into a whole.
At the moment you are able to see my self portrait photographs from this project that are complete on my website. I’m also having a Solo show preview for it this month from April 9 to the 29th, 2022 at the Home Gallery Located at 291 Grand Street, New York, NY. Opening reception is tomorrow, April 9 from 6-8PM EST.