Our professional relationship began with a phone call in 2003 basically complimenting us on developing a magazine about contemporary illustration which led to an offer: "I'm very popular, you should feature me. You'll sell a lot of magazines!" This was my introduction to Istvan Banyai. Still new to the field of illustration, it was not an unwelcome call and one that resulted in Istvan being featured alongside Cathie Bleck and Raul Colon in Issue 4 of 3x3 Magazine. Istvan was a huge supporter of our work, a subscriber, and a promoter of the magazine. When asked to provide a quote for an ad we were doing, he offered: "Illustration is solitude. 3x3 Magazine is great as it steps into my fellow illustrator's life with grace and candor, so I can see I am not alone. A great publication." — ist-one.
Our personal relationship revolved around occasional meetings for coffee in the city and each year for several years, dinner at Gigi's in Rhinebeck, New York. Having moved to Lakeville, Connecticut from the city, he had found the only tobacco store that sold Gauloises, the French cigarette which he was addicted to, was at the corner of East Market and Mill Street in Rhinebeck, so he suggested we meet for dinner at the nearby Gigi Trattoria. His favorite was the Bianca pizza which he would insist Sarah and I have a slice, and there was always red wine, perhaps one he had just heard about. The conversation started with me talking with Istvan and his wife, Kati, talking with Sarah and then it would switch and soon we were all talking over each other. What would normally be a hour long dinner often turned into three or four. The conversations early on were about their son Simon and his search for a wife, the state of editorial illustration, the vacuum created by so many magazines going dark and the prudishness of too many art directors watering down his concepts. In later years I would encourage him to move more into animation as I'd seen his work and felt he could offer that in addition to his 2-D exquisite line drawings. He decided to concentrate more on books, and other than some work for Hungarian publishers who gave him carte blanche, he found equal resistance to some of his wilder creations. I'm not sure American art directors fully embraced Istvan's European sensibility and other than the monetary gains he would have felt more welcomed there, than here.
Istvan has a kind and generous human, and I was feeling guilty as we hadn't had one of our dinners in too many years so my thought was this December we'll renew our friendship, but it would have been too late as we arrived at our upstate rental on December 17. It's wonderful to read so many posts this weekend about how he was appreciated as an artist but I'm not sure how many of us told it to his face, keep in mind we all suffer from imposter syndrome no matter how great we are. Give the living their due while they're alive is always the best policy.
Download a PDF of Istvan's cover and article, 3x3 Magazine, Volume Two, Number One.