Zoetropes, Gestalt and the Promised Land of Inspired Art

The new issue of the Francis Ford Coppola published quarterly literary magazine Zoetrope: All-Story combines modern literature with current events and creative greats past, present and future to provide a seasonal, Gestaltian closure for art of many mediums. For sale on newsstands (and online) now, Volume 13, Number 3 is an introspective selection of short stories. From the brooding image of a blood-red brick-dust tennis court in Hang Ong’s “Burden of Dreams” to the Rorschach-blot cover by Rex Ray, this edition is every bit the collection of contemporary and traditional we’ve come to appreciate from another of the great-Godfather’s many undertakings.

Each issue of All-Story is guest-designed, often making locating a challenge or receiving a pleasant surprise. The current issue was aesthetically assembled by American fine artist Rex Ray in his return to magazine design, the avenue that led to his art career. He’s since proceeded through the walls of the museums in San Francisco, San Jose and on east by way of band vans and his poster designs for The Rolling Stones, Patti Smith, Beck and others.  

Rex Ray posters

Using a full rainbow of Crayola colors and delicate, matte stock, Ray created an issue that is both artful and accessible. Collage, it could be, intriguingly representing All-Story‘s cast of mentally marooned characters. Speech-bubble shaped clips of newsprint balloon out over leaking-like scraps of richly painted wood grain and bleed beneath timeworn, sponge-stamped block letters. Intermittent photographs of human limbs, telephone wires and graffiti are eerie indeed though balanced by the peppy palette of the rest of the pages, many of which seem to hint at Hoyle, producing circus-like dichotomy of fun and fright: diamonds reminiscent of a jester’s cap and bells (or are those gumballs?) a latex glove maybe seen through the slide of a Viewfinder – these pieces playfully separate paragraphs about the endearing mania of man.

Characteristically, the publication introduces upstarts and remembers masters. This season’s contributors include Sam Shepard and The Office‘s John Krasinski. Readers will find names they know and news they don’t (yet). Features are modern and sharp, but with a bend for classicism and reliable celebration of the craft.

Scottish writer, and comedian (her fourth book due out in April 2010) A. L. Kennedy’s short story “As God Made Us” is direct and dripping with tense sweat on the brows of a crew of maimed but no less machismo British soldiers. The second paragraph grows ”flowers in big round-bellied pots with whole thick fists of blossom in them now: a purple kind and a crimson, and both shades luminous, really almost sore with brightness, especially when all else was still dim. They needed only a touch of dawn and they’d kick off, blazing.” It’s imagery that matches the dampness of the royal-purple painted boards beneath All-Story‘s table of contents.

“Burden of Dreams” is a short by Han Ong – playwright and novelist (high-school dropout and MacArthur Fellow) from the Philippines. The self-proclaimed outsider “twice over – my queerness and my ethnicity” (which he considers a gift to art though not life) writes often about “same-sex love, cultural clash, and class conflict”. Burden accompanies said types, beginning blatantly: This story of a man who builds a folly in the jungles of the Philippines …

Also exposed is Keith Ridgway, his own subject in a story by the same name as the band whose show he attends: Do Make Say Think Show. An Irish writer living in London, Ridgway (the character) is torturously self-conscious but at least slightly relieved by musical enlightenment. (If you can sympathize, the point’s thereabouts.) DMSTS is a Canadian instrumental rock band whose new record Other Truths was released last week. Pitchfork‘s review bestowed 7.2 stars and summarized: ”Spread across a suite of four lengthy tracks and titled with the same string of verbs as the band’s name, the album isn’t about momentum as much as it is about transitions.” Be those transitions of chords or life depends perhaps on your proximity to the stage. Are you the reader, the writer or an audience kid – “clusters of skin and clumps of hair” Ridgeway calls them.

“Thor’s Day (Highway 81 North, Staunton, Virginia)”: Prolific Pulitzer Prize-winning author Sam Shepard furthers All-Story‘s blur between actual and fictional reflection with his dialogue-only depiction of an amusingly troubled couple (or individual). The scene begins with sob-inducing blueberry pancakes and progresses appropriately from there. Look forward to his short story collection Day Out of Days in January and to tide you over until, The New Yorker published Shepard short “Land of the Living” last month.

And, Fall 2009 finales with the late David Foster Wallace’s stories, “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men,” which usual actor John Krasinski adapted for film – writing and directing the movie that opened in theaters last month. All-Story includes an introduction by Krasinski in which he recalls his college-theater-class welcome to Wallace via Infinite Jest (which Time magazine listed as one of the hundred best English-language novels published between 1923 and 2005) as a work he was able to grasp only after overcoming the “sheer damn weight of the thing” and developing the “cerebral capabilities to complete the book”.

“Wallace’s writing was the very thing I had started college hoping to find, and without being overly sentimental I can say this night was the defining moment when I realized I wanted to give an acting career a shot. I had glimpsed the promised land of inspired art and understood the impact it could have on an audience.”

How’s that for closure?

gestalt ley de cierre

Zoetrope: a device for giving an illusion of motion, consisting of a slitted drum that, when whirled, shows a succession of images placed opposite the slits within the drum as one moving image.

Gestalt: Gestalt is a general description for the concepts that make unity and variety possible in design. It is a German word that roughly translates as “whole” or “form.” Gestalt theory is involved with visual perception and the psychology of art among other things. It is concerned with the relationship between the parts and the whole of a composition.

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