Day 16: Esopus Magazine (Issue #10) is BTS

Esopus is a creek in the Catskill mountains that begins as a small stream and meanders north, then southeast, then northeast until it empties into the Hudson River. In the 19th century it was a powerful force that carved canyons along its course, but in the 1930’s its current was intersected by the construction of the Ashokan Reservoir, which stores much of New York City’s water supply. The part of the stream that runs below this filtering system is often brackish and slow-moving; but above the reservoir, the Esopus is still vibrant: a pure dynamic space in which diverse elements flow and meld together.

It is this body of water that Esopus magazine is named after, a twice-yearly arts compendium that feature diverse, exciting works of creative professionals including artists, writers, filmmakers, designers and musicians. For a journal that can have different kinds of paper stock to suit the requirements of the pieces being featured (a rather costly affair) comes with a CD of songs by indie musicians, Esopus is refreshingly free of ads; a non-profit was set up to subsidize much of its publication cost. 

I first heard about Esopus and its editor, Tod Lippy, while doing the marketing for a documentary about the late author Christopher Isherwood and his partner, painter Don Bachardy (the works of both have been featured separately in the magazine). I picked up a copy of the current issue, Esopus #10, a little worried that it was going to be a cooler-than-thou gallery of esoteric and inaccesibly astract works. But the first piece, excerpts of the black-and-white cityscape prints by New York-based artist Yvonne Jacquette, promptly dispelled my qualms, the genius, daring and element of mystery jumping right off the page.

Two other artists’ projects engaged me the most, their wit and quirk anchored by a deep sense of life and humanity. The first is “Daily Reminders”, a sampling of notes that Exhibition designer Robert Guest has been getting up at dawn every school day for the past 15 years to write to each of his two children, Joanna and Theo. Thousands of these letters were collected by his wife, Gloria, from lunchboxes and laundry piles, and are pictured on the issue cover. The second is Dulce Pinzón’s “The Real Story of the Superheroes”, a photographic series of Mexican immigrants in New York City donning superhero garb at their various blue-collar jobs; many of them send the bulk of their earnings back to their families in Mexico. It’s a technicolor Zen koan, an exercise in subtle humor punctuated by a sharp jolt of insight. 

To set me on my path to Nirvana and further liberate myself from the shackles of sexual depravity, I decided to seek out Tod – the fact that twenty-minutes of Google-stalking him turned up photos of a guy I’d normally succumb to temptation for didn’t help – and ask him a few questions:

Me: What inspired you to start Esopus?

Tod: Essentially I‘d done other magazines and really enjoyed producing something that gets immediate response from readers but I had always been frustrated in the places I’d worked with this sort of intermingling between editorial and advertising. I was frustrated with the art world and in certain specialized fields in that magazines directed toward each of those disciplines are very jargony and tend to be a little offputting to general readers. I feel that contemporary art is not reaching a huge slot of the population so [Esopus] was a way to cover the non-commercial thing that I really want to do and avoid advertising. I wanted to create something that was friendly to a larger group of people and do something that was very multidisciplinary and so it wasn’t a segregated magazine that would only reach a certain type of creative person.

Me: How would you describe your aesthetic sensibility when it comes to curating the pieces that end up in every issue?

Tod: Part of it is personal in that there’s usually one very well-known artist project in each issue. Generally it’s somebody that I’ve admired for years, people that have meant a lot to me in my creative life like Kay Rosen and Jenny Holzer. And then we also get incredible submissions; at least 2 things in every issue are unsolicited like Doug McNamara’s “Biodiversions” in the current one. He’s a subscriber and he’s never shown the work anywhere but his work is amazing. The idea is to make it feel like each thing exists on its own terms design-wise as well as content-wise. Although there are some things that feel Esopus-like, it’s a little more suprising when you open each issue and you get something that’s more than expected.

Me: How did you find out about Bob Guest’s letters to his kids?

Tod: It’s a classic example of my board of advisers tipping me on great material. I called [award-winning illustrator] Scott Menchin and said I was looking for something that’s like a found object – not contemporary art, not literature, but something really interesting. He said, “Remember my friend, Bob? I think he writes to his kids every day.” I met Bob a few years ago through Scott so I went out and met with him and thought, “This is incredible”. Bob has thousands of stacks and stacks and bags full of  the ones on the issue cover. The only challenge about having only two weeks to sort through the stacks was we had to get only 10 letters for each kid. In a way, it was merciful that I didn’t have two months to do it or I would have been completely incapacitated because there was so much great stuff. The idea was to get a representative sample – some entries were more philosophical, some were drawings and some were more banal like “Hope you do well in basketball today” so we’re trying to get that diverse feel. What’s amazing about the whole piece was that Bob did it every day for years. At the launch party for the current issue, his son Theo came and he’s a wonderful kid and obviously very close to his dad.


From “The Real Story of The Superheroes” by Dulce Pinzón in Esopus 10


One Response to “Day 16: Esopus Magazine (Issue #10) is BTS”

  1. that’s really awesome! now you make me want to go and grab a copy this instant =)

    .ps. Tod looks like a cross between john corbett and bill pullman, in a really cute way (hihihi) 😛

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