‘Yesterday’s Mail’ by Ray Johnson, courtesy of Esopus Foundation Ltd.
While most publications work to define their own brand, Esopus is quietly neutral. It brings together a choir of artists, with voices constantly changing, yet equally compelling, from page to page. Esopus has been annually delivering unfiltered content from artist to reader since 2003, serving as the main activity of The Esopus Foundation Ltd., whose mission is to enable artists ‘to make a direct connection with the general public.’
Fifteen years on, the publication still behaves like a grassroots operation, commanding everything of Lippy and a part-time administrator. For this among other reasons can The New York Times’ David Carr praise it as ‘a thing of lavish, eccentric beauty, less flipped through than stared at, forcing readers to reconcile their expectations of what a magazine is.’
On the occasion of the 25th issue of Esopus—which features Anish Kapoor, John Edmonds, and Tina Barney, among others—we talked to Tod Lippy about his vision for the magazine.
I can speak to neutrality as both editor and designer. Of course, I am making choices by arranging and sequencing content, but I hope that the presentation is never constructed in such a way that lends a particular viewpoint. Esopus is meant to feel as though you are looking through something you just discovered at a thrift shop. My goal is to allow readers to take each piece of content on its—and their—own terms. Every issue is full of hand-inserted objects, pull-out posters, and other removable items that are meant to make it feel like a container filled with disparate items. The challenge—and it can sometimes be a big one—is to make this collection of different things feel somehow linked. But I try to do that without using a “house style” or redundant page design. We are definitely not The New Yorker (as much as I love it)—the point isn’t to open a copy of Esopus and instantly recognise it from its design.
Foremost, we avoid all advertising. I think it’s disruptive, if not destructive, to juxtapose art with advertising or commercial content, whether it’s a perfume ad interrupting a short story in a magazine or a corporation’s name emblazoned on a gallery of contemporary art in a museum. ‘Unmediated’ also means that, as the sole person producing the publication, I always have direct contact with the artists, and never with “handlers”—whether they be gallerists, publicists, managers, or agents. For a publication as unconventional as ours, I think it’s essential that I convey my belief in and passion for the project directly to the person I’m inviting to contribute. If Esopus works, it’s because it’s just me and the contributor—and eventually the reader—creating and interpreting every artist’s project, poem, short story, or CD track that appears in an issue.
Having an established artist that I respect in the magazine is hugely rewarding personally. It’s also important to our mission to use Esopus to champion younger, unknown artists, and the cachet of having a well-known artist within that platform makes achieving that goal much easier. By featuring work from many different disciplines, we can hopefully encourage people to be less compartmental when thinking about the arts. It always strikes me as somehow counterproductive to have different sections for literature, visual arts, film, design, and more when you visit a newsstand. Why can’t a publication cross disciplines within its pages?
We live in this intense culture, especially in urban environments, which is constantly about stimulation— horns, sirens, yelling, jackhammers, the constant barrage of advertising, etc.—and I feel like many magazine covers kind of replicate that cacophony visually by using Day-Glo colors, provocative cover lines, and celebrity photos to sell copies. I think it’s nice to offer people a little respite from that.
Esopus is available internationally at select newsstands and online. To learn more about this distinctive publication, visit the Esopus website.