Meet Zsolt Vidák, creator of Budapest’s own “Where’s Waldo?”
A cavalcade of colours and a comical crowd feature in the dazzling drawings of Hungarian artist Zsolt Vidák. Inspired by everyday life in the city, Zsolt’s art captures the essence of Budapest in beautifully drawn, fun and funky images. And if you look closely, you may spot a few unfitting characters such as Hitchcock, an astronaut, a bear or a shark. You know, just hanging out at Széchenyi Baths or on Deák tér as you do. An amazing talent, Zsolt Vidák has also been an illustrator for the Hungarian Post for years. We ask him about work, life and the city we all love.
WLB: When did your love for drawing start?
Zsolt Vidák: I loved drawing even as a child. I used to draw my favourite cartoon characters, logos and copied pictures from books all the time. In high school, art became less important in my life, as due to some pressure from my parents, I went on to study engineering. In my second year I realised that it just wasn’t for me, so after getting a degree and a job as an engineer, I used my free time to take lessons in drawing. I studied graphics and illustration, and in 2002 I was accepted at MOME (Budapest’s prestigious Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design). I absolutely loved it. Even to this day, I really miss the atmosphere.
WLB: What do we have to know about you?
ZsV: I am a very positive person who is always thinking about something. I love life. I charge up during my compulsory everyday walks that are really important to me. When I have time, I read – I used to read a lot more and really miss it. Casares, Cortázar, Kafka, Poe, Bulgakov, Chekhov, Hemingway, Orwell, Dickens, Joyce, Pelevin, Murakami… it’s a long list. In my art, there are two different paths: more lighthearted and stricter works. The former is the Budapest series, in which I can be nice and the latter is when I can create without limits (elements of Freud, Simulacrum, Triomedon…). Recently, I’ve been working digitally, but I’m planning to start painting again.
WLB: Do you still design stamps for the Hungarian Post?
ZsV: I design many for them. I love doing it, it is really something special. This collaboration has been going on for a while now. I made my first stamp in 2005 when I won the tender on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of Mome. Since then, I have designed several stamps, and last year I was awarded the Best Stamp of the World Prize for “Countries, Cities”.
WLB: When did you start making drawings of Budapest?
ZsV: In 2010. I was highly inspired by the work of Belgian illustrator Tom Schamp. My first drawings were of imaginary places enhanced with the characteristics of Budapest. I remember constantly running down to the street to check specific details. How manholes sink in the concrete, the different ways windows are made, the exact look of each front gate and what kind of objects are scattered on the street. These all enrich illustrations and break up the monotone details of a picture.
WLB: How do you start working on a picture and how long does it take to finish?
ZsV: First I always create a sketch. Before, I never thought that this part of the process was important, but I had to realise that it actually is essential. Also, it is a lot easier to make modifications on a sketch than on an actual work already in progress. The time it takes always varies – sometimes I spend months with one while others I finish in one or two weeks.
I illustrate my Budapest pictures from above. First, I create a quick sketch, basically just circles and rectangles just to set the directions of the drawing. Afterwards, I look up the place on Google Earth and make it more precise. Then I collect a lot of photos of buildings as the details on Google Earth are not too perfect. When I have the final sketch, the boring part of finalising begins. I like this part a little less, but then, I add the details.
WLB: Your drawings are fun and funky, full of tiny amusing details. Do you like playing around with hidden gems?
ZsV: When everything is in place and is coloured, the real creation starts. This is when I add life to the drawing and everything falls into place. For me, this is true art and this is when I can daydream.
WLB: Comical, returning characters often hide in your pictures. Why Hitchcock, a bear or an astronaut?
ZsV: My girlfriend is a Hitchcock fan and she introduced me to his films, which had a great influence on me. I love that he has a cameo in them. Since then, I have been sneaking myself and my family into my drawings. And Hitchcock, too. I like hiding weird and unfitting things in my pictures like a bear or an astronaut. There are several returning figures like a pigeon, a rubber duck or animals in medical cones.
WLB: Your graphics are humorous and playful, yet masterfully capture the essence of Budapest. What inspires you?
ZsV: I walk a lot. It is a sport for me, relaxing and invigorating. I think everything through, see things clearly and collect ideas. I inspect people and go with the flow of the street, taking a mental note of everything interesting I see. Budapest’s architecture is impressive, full of surprises. I have lived here for a long time but still keep noticing buildings that impress me with their simplicity or rich detail. I love looking up at roof terraces and imagining how people have their morning coffee there. Or admiring a building erected in front of an apartment block. It is like looking at patchwork. This is my endless source for inspiration.
WLB: How would you describe Budapest, what does it mean to you?
ZsV: It is incredibly exciting and wonderfully beautiful, I love it. I have lived here for about 20 years now. I moved from Dunaújváros, which is pretty monotone but I still like getting a little nostalgic there, walking between the concrete blocks. Budapest’s architecture and districts are manifold and dazzling, and there are really strong contrasts, which can be negative, but at the same time makes it all interesting and colourful.
WLB: What are you working on at the moment?
ZsV: I am designing a stamp with a very exciting theme, doing numerous illustrations for books and, last but not least, I’m working on my own book about Budapest. I have been planning it for a really long time. It will be lengthy and should be out in about a year.
WLB: What are your plans for the future?
ZsV: The book is the most important now. I certainly will have new pictures of Budapest, but now I’m very busy with other things.
WLB: How about exhibitions?
ZsV: At the moment there is a grand exhibition in New York, where 17 portraits and several illustrations of mine are on display. I’ll also have a solo exhibition in Vienna, most likely next year.
WLB: And where can we buy your pictures?