For Áron Filkey, growing up in Budapest provided him with the foundations of a strong design language and a love for ’70s visuals.
“I usually prefer staying on the opposite side of the camera, so I made a prop to create distraction,” he says, laughing and pointing to the 6-foot-tall pencil in the corner of his sun-bathed living room in Greenpoint. Originally drawn to the hands-on practice of graphic design, he found himself continuously stretching the boundaries of that field to include different mediums such as video and photography.
Handcrafted out of wood and painted to resemble a giant pencil, there’s no question that Filkey has a lighthearted approach to his interdisciplinary work. “Graphic design has given me the vocabulary to create captivating still imagery, these visuals lie at the base of all my projects,” he explains. This skill is unmistakable in all his creative endeavors, Filkey playfully captures and toys with the essence of the subject he’s visualizing.
“I usually prefer staying on the opposite side of the camera.”
Filkey relocated to New York for an internship at creative agency Sagmeister & Walsh in 2016. Having studied graphic design in Budapest and Berlin, he has since expanded his work to include art direction, production design, and photo illustration. In the bold and colourful photo illustrations he created for The New York Times, the topic of dying rock music came to life through stills resembling a excavation site and a museum exhibition of iconic rock symbols. When brainstorming ideas to create title sequences for Eastern European MTV, Filkey returned to his foundation of still imagery to creates different effects by maneuvering and building upon these individual blocks.
For the channel’s Brand New program featuring new bands, he chose to play with the title and created a visual sequence of various instruments being cleaned in front of block-color backdrops. The piano is seen getting flossed between it’s keys, a drum kit is scrubbed and polished with a sponge, a flute blown with a vacuum cleaner, all accompanied by humorous noises over a mix of drums and keyboard. The video is lighthearted but effective, capturing the essence of the show in a bizarrely funny and entertaining manner.
There is an analog approach to his work, which runs as a common thread throughout his projects, as he favors a tactile, hands-on way to the commonly used digital process. “I started off my career doing low-budget productions where we didn’t have the funds to use external people. Instead of hiring a storyboard artist, we would use drawings from my sketchbook to present our concepts to the client,” he explains. This process has stuck with him ever since, believing that the physical handprint of the artist is essential to making their work more accessible for consumers. He prefers working with his hands to sitting in front of the computer all day and sees digital technology as one of many graphic design tools, just like a pencil or an eraser.
“Nothing is strange or new in New York, because I’ve seen most of it growing up watching American movies. The familiarity with the city helps me stay grounded, as the people around me are in constant flux.” One of his favorite locations, which combines the quintessential American experience with images of his childhood is the Airline Diner located on the edge of Jackson Heights. The infamous burger joint from Scorsese’s Goodfellas now houses Jackson Hole Burgers but still retains its nostalgic appeal.
Filkey often draws inspiration from spots similar to this for their ’70s appeal—you can often find him sitting in the window of a diner or a small cafe, gazing at the surrounding neighborhood. Although he sees the pace of New York as great training for his agility, the tumultuous nature of the city can often become overwhelming. He escapes the noise by hopping on his bike or grabbing a skateboard and exploring new neighborhoods, Queens being his favorite borough. “It’s a real jungle of different cities built upon each other,” he says. “Walking down one street you have the feeling you’re in Italy, but turning the corner you’re faced with shop fronts written in Chinese.”
“Graphic design has given me the vocabulary to create captivating still imagery.”
Being on the road has always been one of the biggest sources of inspiration for Filkey. Having recently returned from shooting a hotel commercial in Las Vegas, he now sees neon lights popping up on every street in New York, waiting for an opportunity to use the motif in future projects. This constant change in scenery is what keeps his visual language original and his photographic eye sharp. Moving away from his hometown has allowed him to reflect on his relationship with the city’s creative potential.
“Whenever I go back to Budapest, I experience the city from a completely new perspective. I discover details that you wouldn’t necessarily spot if you’ve been living there for a while.” While many young Hungarian creatives move away from the capital to profit from their artistic talents elsewhere, Filkey didn’t move to New York to escape. “I see great creative potential in Hungary to come up with new and innovative visions. It’s different here, most things have already been done by someone else.” However, Brooklyn, where he just opened his own studio, will remain his base for now.
Áron Filkey is a graphic designer and art director who lives and works between New York and Budapest. He has realized projects for The New York Times, MTV, Red Bull Music, General Electrics as well as smaller brands.
This portrait belongs to our content collaboration with German fashion label Closed that highlights the lives and achievements of international creative tastemakers. Over on their website, Filkey talks about about his beginnings as a graphic designer. The series also includes the story of Antwerp-based landscape painter Nils Verkaeren and photographer Stefan Heinrichs.