Monday, October 3, 2011

Gallery Opening: Istvan Banyai and Tibor Kárpáti

I had the distinct honor and privilege to say a few words about the artists Istvan Banyai and Tibor Kárpáti at the opening of their exhibit at the Hungarian Cultural Center. For those of you who couldn’t attend I’d like to share what I had to say about these two illustrators:

Mr. Ambassador, honorees and guests, good evening. I have been asked to say a few words about two distinguished illustrators who I have had the great fortune to know. And work with. When Istvan called to see if I was interested in speaking he told me I just have to say two words and then I’m done. Naturally I said yes. Unfortunately two words just don’t cover the expanse of talent demonstrated by these two diverse, yet similar artists. Tonight I have over a thousand words. I am also gratified that a cultural institution is honoring illustrators and illustration. We need more public recognition of this kind. Illustration has taken a back seat to photography and fine art far too long.

I believe photography cannot replicate the ideas illustrators dream up. I believe illustration looks as different as the illustrators themselves. I believe illustrators are as original as original gets. I believe we can all take a picture. Few of us can paint one.

I believe we are all born with the ability to draw and paint yet only a few of us continue after grammar school, fewer still as we get older. We all start off loving art. Who can forget how we enjoyed getting our fingers dirty in kindergarten. With chalk. Or crayons. Or poster paint. We mushed clay together to make ashtrays. We pasted popsicle sticks to make a jewelry box. We drew pictures of mom, dad, siblings. Houses. Trees. Summer vacations. Crude though they were they had real meaning to us. And even today looking back they still do. Most of us moved away from art as our education continued. We became more enamored with science or math or history; art faded in our lives. But there were a couple of kids in our classroom that we knew would always be artists. And they are. Some are fine artists others are illustrators and a growing number are both.

I’m not just a fan of illustration I am an advocate. I believe illustration provides us our only true cultural guidepost. Illustrators capture the essence of our times through paint or pixel. The style of our times is evident in the illustrations that appear in magazines,newspapers, books and on screens big and small. They record events, personalities, ideas—political and otherwise, pathos, love, the zeitgeist in a much deeper and more meaningful way than we can ourselves or that an ordinary photo provides. The illustrated image is imbued with the hand and eye of the artist; it speaks to us in a truly unique way. And just like our early crude stick figures, it makes a lasting impression.

I believe when we look back ten, fifty or a hundred years from today illustrators, playwrights and musicians, not painters or sculptors will give us true glimpses of our past. Today you can visit the Met and see the new exhibit of Frans Hals who documented life in the 17th century. There will be no paintings hanging in the Met recording this time we live in. No fine artist will show a crowd scene with people on their iPod, iPhone or iPad. Yet stored away in flat files or on hard drives illustrators chronicle the every day. The every man. Everyday illustrators capture beauty and horror in line, tone and color. Illustrators record history in the making.

While fine artists measure their work by what has come before illustrators measure theirs by what is today. While photography can give us the real, illustration gives us the ideal. And more importantly illustration communicates an idea. Illustrators bring to life the mundane, the profane, the profound. The imagery of illustration is universal. Wrinkles. Warts and all. Illustration is truly the art of the people.

You may ask how do illustrators work? It is really no different than when Pope Julius commissioned the Sistine Chapel ceiling in 1508. Art directors ask illustrators to portray today’s gods. And angels. And devils. For the pages of magazines, newspapers and books.

Being an illustrator is not easy. Illustrators work in solitude and on short deadlines. Fine artists have months, illustrators have hours. A project comes in from the New York Times on Wednesday and is due the next day. Not just an idea but an extraordinary idea. And an execution that is flawless. We expect much from illustrators; they never fail to deliver yet we pay them less than other visual communicators. Only a few make their living as an illustrator for more than seven to ten years. Illustration is like fashion; a style is in one day and out the next.
That’s what makes today’s celebration so special. You are honoring two illustrators who have beat the odds. One who has far exceeded the normal life expectancy of an illustrator; the other headed that way for sure. Istvan Banyai and Tibor Kárpáti. Two illustrators that are as diverse as they are similar. Artists. Authors. Animators. Both move easily between the still and moving picture. One relegates his work to curves the other to simple squares. Their voice is unique. But what inspired their work? Perhaps we should credit other famous Hungarians. Did Erno Rubik influence Tibor? Did porn star Cicciolina inspire Istvan?

I must admit I’ve known Istvan far longer than Tibor; with Tibor our communication has been solely in cyberspace, with Istvan I have broken bread with him and his lovely wife at their home in Lakeville. He recommends wines, we dine on Hungarian dishes and of course we talk illustration and art. But our conversations are usually interrupted by constant cigarette breaks. And I must speed this up, as I know he’s due one now. Istvan likes to deal with the absurd. When I was first exposed to Istvan’s work I would swear he was in his 30s. Yet when I met him I found we were the same age. Nothing exposed his age in his drawings. There is no old or new. Istvan and Tibor are both timely and timeless.

With Tibor the work echoes of both Mario Bros. and Angry Birds and yet remains fresh like we’ve never seen it before. Tibor is generous with his ideas. When we worked together I didn’t get one solution, I got six. I was sitting in New York he was in Budapest it is truly a global market. Ideas can come from anywhere, from anyone. In our latest issue of 3x3 his icons of New York sparkle on the page. Tibor owns the square. It’s just that simple.

And you immediately recognize the work of both artists without having to scan for the credit line. Thirty years separate their ages, nothing separates their talent

When we featured Istvan in an early issue of 3x3 I asked him for his words to live by, he gave me these: Never grow up, If you do, you’re dead.

The exhibit is up through October 14 at the Hungarian Cultural Center, 447 Broadway, 5th Floor.


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