Local artist creates GIF poetry

Central New York artist Edgar Paiewonsky-Conde explains his latest art presentation, “Icons and Eye Poems.”

Edgar Paiewonsky-Conde has a full head of white hair that cascades down into an equally-full and white beard. The whiteness is only slightly broken up by an all-linen, cream jacket and pants, with an aqua blue linen shirt. His words, soft and thoughtful, are accented with the sound of the Dominican Republic – his home long before he lived in Manlius. His handshake is firm and his eyes are endearing when he asks, “Do you know what a GIF is?”

Looking for the PDF files of his art, Paiewonsky-Conde explains the name of his art presentation “Icons and Eye Poems.” The icons, he says, are short poems that only use a few words. “I use them very sparsely,” he says, “and try to create a very condensed message.” The eye poems, in contrast, are strictly visual art. “I claim that they are poems that see and teach you to see. That’s my propaganda” he explains, laughing.

“Icons and Eye Poems” are what Paiewonsky-Conde describes as “material conceptual” poetry. “Materialist because they try to really focus on details of the material world that somehow contain some kind of truth,” he says, and “trying to explore the essence of a number.” His art is presented using transparent pages and GIFs. Thursday evening, Paiewonsky-Conde presented “Icons and Eye Poems” at Point of Contact Gallery.

A professor of Hispanic literature at Hobart and Williams Smith Colleges, Paiewonsky-Conde does not have a background in mathematics, contrary to the impression he gives from his fixation on numbers. He says he began his journey into minimalist poetry through what he calls “normal” poetry.

As a poet in college, he won awards and had some of his works published. “I had the sense back then that the more elements [a poem] uses, the less it manages to convey,” he says. “I was trying to do a kind of poetry that did not dwell on the experience of my ego, but that referred more to the essences from the material world.” These poems, he says, came as “apparitions” of numbers.

Those apparitions have translated into “Icons and Eye Poems”—a project he has been working on for about 20 years.  The numbers Paiewonsky-Conde mostly focuses on are four, five, seven and nine. His fascination, he says, is rooted in the significance given to each number in the world. For example, four represents the axes and quadrants figures can be divided into and seven is revered as a magic number in some cultures.

His icons, while not solely visual, rely on digital presentation as much as the eye poems; GIFs portray brief messages in particular structures, which are as significant to the poems as the words. One poem’s structure resembles a bird and the words, written in Spanish, translate to “bird crosses. Head, tail. Two wings.”

As a man who can remember the 1960's fondly, Paiewonsky-Conde did not grow up with an inherent understanding of the digital world. His art began as a book of transparent pages which were only recently adapted to presentable GIFs.

Book artist and gallery manager at Onondaga Community College, Richard Pardee, met the artist when Paiewonsky-Conde needed assistance with one of his book projects. “He has wonderful ideas,” Pardee says, “But then there’s the challenge of getting his brilliant ideas into actual physical form.” But, through GIFs, Paiewonsky-Conde manages to share his poetry. “He’s kind of like a prestidigitator,” Pardee says.

Miranda Traudt, managing director at Point of Contact, says Paiewonsky-Conde has been connected to the gallery for 10 years. His poetry was featured in the gallery’s first annual poetry publication, “Corresponding Voices.” Tradut says this presentation provided an ideal way to bring Paiewonsky-Conde back to the gallery. “We focus on contemporary verbal and visual arts,” Traudt says. “…We have a really great history of focusing on artists from Latin America, so Edgar fits this identity perfectly.”

“Icons and Eye Poems” was a presentation, not an exhibition at Point of Contact. Pardee says Paiewonsky-Conde’s art is best served that way. “When he presents them, that becomes the magic of it,” Pardee says. “In other words, he’s a big part of the art.”

Paiewonsky-Conde says it can be difficult to explain his work verbally, which means it’s accomplishing what it’s meant to accomplish. His young goddaughter, he recalls, wrote him a letter from Chicago about his art.

He sent an invitation for his presentation to his goddaughter’s father—a linguist who is also from the Dominican Republic. Paiewonsky-Conde’s goddaughter saw the GIF of “4 cuatros/4 fours.” Her letter, he says, read “I like it. But I don’t know what it means.” Paiewonsky-Conde says he wrote back and said, “You know, you have really captured the important things about that poem.”

"pyramid siete 2 gif" © 2015 Edgar Paiewonsky-Conde

"4 cuatros/4 fours gif" © 2015 Edgar Paiewonsky-Conde

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