Jim Darilek, the second art director of this magazine, was a lasting influence in defining Texas Monthly’s distinctive early look. During his years here, from 1975 to 1983, he designed stories of all types, but his covers made the most lasting impression. Colorful, full of swagger, and deeply invested in the Texas myth, they exploited larger-than-life images of cattle drives, oil-field roughnecks, fat-cat millionaires, the Texas Rangers, Aggies, cheerleaders, good-for-nothing politicians, and the occasional bowl of chili. For all that, he was equally adept at creating lovely, quiet images: a lonely stretch of Texas beach, a glimpse of Big Bend, a single wildflower enlarged to show every detail.
Despite his skill in exploiting Texas’s rowdy cowboy ways, Jim himself was urbane. He was tall, thin, and wore his dark hair just above his shoulders, which made him look a little like Beatles guitarist George Harrison. During his time at the magazine he invariably dressed in pressed white shirts and tailored jeans, and he always carried a leather briefcase.
In person, Jim was so quiet that he was difficult to read. He could come off as enigmatic, even distant. (I myself had lunch with him more times than I can count, but I never felt I knew him well.) In spite of his natural restraint, though, there was always a little smile behind his eyes, and he was an astute observer of human nature. Those characteristics served him well in the chaotic magazine world, which tends to run on adrenaline-fueled deadlines and is often in need of a calming influence.
Jim (whose full name was Jim Wesley Darilek—the surname is Czech) was born in Olney, Texas, in 1948, and attended the University of Texas. In 1971 he joined several friends in founding GSD&M, which would become one of the most influential advertising agencies in Texas (Darilek, of course, was the “D” in the company’s name). He left that job in 1975 to design for Texas Monthly.
After his eight-year tenure here, he moved on to other positions in art direction and design with several large magazine groups around the country, most notably in New York with House Beautiful. He eventually moved to Savannah, where he lived for many years, before his death on December 31, 2021, at age 73. His obituary did not specify a cause of death, but he dealt with lingering health issues in his later years. He is survived by his sister , Alice Darilek, and his brother-in-law, Richard Perkins, of Santa Fe.
Jim’s colleagues and friends shared the remembrances below.
Sybil (Broyles) Raney was the first art director and then design director for Texas Monthly.
There were no computers when the magazine started in 1973. We—meaning I and one assistant, Hope Rodriguez—did all the layouts and pasteups by hand using a T square on a drafting table. We needed more help, and of all the people I knew in the art and design world, Jim Darilek kept popping into my mind as the ideal candidate. His design sensibility was simpatico with mine, and his demeanor was quiet but confident. I knew he would be the calm in the storm when our hectic deadlines rolled around. Every month we had a wild adventure wrangling photographs and illustrations, but Jim, with his deadpan sense of humor and endless creativity, managed to make the chaos fun.
William Broyles was the founding editor of Texas Monthly.
Jim and Sybil established the look and feel of Texas Monthly as we still know it today—the classic design, the playfulness, the outrageousness. Their covers put us on the map. For all their compatibility as designers, though, the two could not have been more opposite. Sybil was outspoken, flamboyant, never afraid to push back or advocate for her vision. Jim was quiet, inward, and so self-effacing at times that he seemed to disappear into the designs that appeared to flow from him effortlessly. They communicated with each other in shorthand and images, wordless shrugs or nods. In spite of his unfailingly conservative demeanor, Jim’s taste was, if anything, the more outrageous.
We editors and writers did not make things easy for the art department. We would delay and dither till the last minute, but Jim would never lose his cool. He always kept that beatific smile, like he was more amused by us than he’d ever let on. When he came on staff, he left behind a position with one of the most successful design firms in the country. He could have stayed there and made huge bucks. But instead he chose to join our traveling circus for peanuts. We were so lucky he did.
Gregory Curtis was the editor in chief from 1981 to 2000.
When I think of Jim Darilek, I think of quiet. Not silence, because Jim spoke freely, but his voice was well modulated and seemed to be part of the quiet that, in my memory, seemed to surround him. He was unflappable, competent, confident and—among a staff that had more than its share of extroverts—he had an interior world that was both vast and private.
Tim McClure was a cofounder of GSD&M.
Back then, after I wrote some copy for an advertising campaign at GSD&M, I’d also scribble a layout on a piece of yellow draft paper, and I would hand both to Jim. He would smile, then design and art direct an absolutely brilliant layout. He would return this masterpiece, typeset and ready to run, along with my pitiful original scribble, rarely saying a discouraging word. I learned quickly that Jim was a man of few words but extraordinary talent.
Sherry Matthews is the founder and owner of Sherry Matthews Group.
I joined GSD&M in the early seventies, and every time I met with Jim the first few months, I would jabber nonstop, because he was so quiet that I felt I had to fill the silence. I soon learned from him, however, that silence is a precious commodity, and those moments allow us to really think. He was a terrific designer, drop-dead handsome, and he had a way of looking at you with those kind, thoughtful eyes. I just loved him right away. He was also a patient, loyal friend. One time, when I carelessly ran into the driver’s side of his car—an impeccable black BMW that was parked in my driveway—he just smiled and said, in perfect understatement, “Oh, my.”
Janice Ashford Shay was a designer for Texas Monthly in the seventies and now owns Pinafore Press.
Jim and I worked easily and often together, but I had to learn how to be his friend. It wasn’t simple. He was a quiet loner, and I was a loudmouth extrovert. I would sit in his office and tell him jokes until he’d begin to laugh. Then we’d go out for a drink. Eventually, we both moved to different cities, but we never missed a yearly visit or two or three. I remember shopping and going to plays with him in New York, trying new restaurants in Atlanta, driving through the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, attending a party with him at a zoo in Knoxville where the giraffes wandered around the buffet tables, going to Hawaii and seeing an Elvis convention at a hotel, and showing him Savannah when I moved here in 1992 (he loved it but thought the overly pristine historic district was like something out of the movie The Truman Show). Over the last few years, lockdown and coronavirus surges made it almost impossible to see Jim, even though we lived near one another. (He had underlying health problems, and it would have been disastrous if he caught COVID.) So we only talked, sometimes a couple of times a month, sometimes less. But we always talked. I’m still expecting a phone call from him.