Engels The Artist
My father was a lover of the German philosopher Engels. In Haiti, one’s surname evokes lineage, so Engels is good enough.
Provenance:I was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Childhood was a magical time. I played soccer barefoot in the streets of Port-au-Prince. I gardened. I took care of our animals: dogs, cats, chickens, and goats.
How long have you lived in New York? I moved from Haiti to Brooklyn, NY in my late teens.
Occupations As a very young boy, I remember my older sister giving me a bath, and out of the blue she said, “Engels, I will marry an artist one day.” I realized then that art is important. In Haiti, art is a part of life. I grew up next door to The Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port-au-Prince. The earthquake of 2010 destroyed the Cathedral and the murals painted by some of the best-known Haitian painters of the twentieth century that graced its walls. My brother took me to visit the great Haitian artist Jérôme at his home. Photography became part of my life early on. From ten-years-old on, I could be found hanging out at a local photography studio. I loved photography, and after moving to New York I eventually took a two-year photography course. I worked as a baker while I was going to school. Initially, I found photography very exciting, but limited creatively, so I taught myself to paint. I had my first solo show a year later. I have shown internationally in over 30 exhibitions. I am known for my abstract compositions using paint, wood, glass, photographs, and found objects.
Passions and Interests: Art! In my artistic practice, everything can become art. It is fluid. Freedom – I feel free when I am creating, always pushing the limits. I am inspired by French Creole cooking, but in the end it could be said to be Engels’ cooking.
What do people know you for? My art. My personality. My appearance. People who are driving often stop at traffic lights to take photos of me. In London, my image is more recognizable. Patrik Graham painted my portrait and entered it into the BP Portrait Award in 2014. It was featured on the banner of the National Portrait Gallery and ran on advertisements for the museum throughout the London Underground.
Thoughts on New York? New York is where my family is. I have spent more time living here than in Haiti. There is a lot to see and do. I love it here.
I travelled to Brooklyn to meet Engels the Artist. His studio is up a few flights of stairs in a block of apartments; the music of Edith Piaf plays as you enter the space. Fellow Haitian artist Jean Dominique Volcy was visiting that day and they chatted about art as I photographed the studio. Engels’ art uses many found objects: old wood, frayed rope, doll heads, glass, and perhaps anything that comes his way. The portrait of Engels was taken at nearby Coney Island.
Have a look at Engels’s website:
Conversation & Portrait by Tallulah
March 2015, New York
Published on November 3, 2015