In nature, the all-or-nothing principle describes the impulse to trigger a desired reaction either completely or not at all. There are no half measures. This was the principle that Olaf Hajek used as he simply sent his drawings to the SZ magazine at the beginning of his career. And the reaction? It was absolutely positive.
Olaf Hajek is now one of the most famous and sought after German illustrators in the world and works for renowned titles such as Architectural Digest, Financial Times, Forbes, Fortune and the Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker or Rolling Stone and Stern. Hajek's career is due to his work discipline, his technical ability and talent, and particularly his belief in his own creations, his drawings and ideas. Not easy at a time when illustrations only catered to a small audience, especially in Germany and were even having a hard time in print media.
After studying Visual Communication in Düsseldorf, Olaf Hajek lived in Spain for several months and then moved to Amsterdam to work. "As soon as I am somewhere else, I am creative. Amsterdam was simply fresh, new and somehow innocent. I really did a lot of work then". Hajek drew, painted, tried things out and send his exceptional illustrations to the editorial departments. But not just any editorial departments: He sent his hand-made booklets straight to the big names, including Dutch Playboy and the SZ magazine.
The people behind the SZ magazine were immediately convinced by his drawings and made Olaf Hajek an offer. A few weeks later, the Art Director himself contacted him and offered him the job of illustrating the summer puzzle, over three issues and including designing the cover. An amazing start. Hajek won the ADC Prize in his first year as an illustrator. Other awards have followed to date, such as D&AD or the Lead Award.
In addition to his contract work, Hajek draws for his own exhibitions whenever he gets the chance. In April 2011, he opened the showcase "Dark clouds are gathering" in Cape Town, South Africa. Works from this series, such as African Beauty and African Antoinette, are also represented in the LUMAS portfolio and reproduce every paint stroke and the most detailed structure of his work thanks to the fine pigment print on Hahnemühle paper. Olaf Hajek's style is a wonderful mixture of folk art and primitive art, which he combines with modern, stylish and elegant elements to create something completely new.
The good thing about believing in yourself is that you do not hide your ability and your passion and ideas can actually come alive, and you can even make a living from it. Right from the start, one of Olaf Hajek's sources of inspiration was the American Illustration publication, a cross-section right through the crème de la crème of illustration, which he started collecting back while he was studying. "That was always the world to which I wanted to belong", says Hajek. "And happily enough, I do today. I have now been in every American Illustration for ten years. It's hard to believe that it was my bible back then"
You have been represented in the LUMAS Portfolio with your illustrations since summer 2010. Selected works from your first monograph "Flowerhead" are among those available. How difficult was the selection for your LUMAS editions?
The selection was made in conjunction with LUMAS, so I would say that a commercial concept also played a role. Nevertheless, I believe that the selection shows the transition from illustration to art wonderfully.
Your works all have a very characteristic signature and are completely individual and unique at the same time. How would you describe your style? What is typically "Olaf Hajek"?
I would use the English expression "the imperfection of beauty".
You have now been working as an illustrator for around two decades - how has your style changed over time?
My earlier work had a darker and more expressive style. My work has become more colourful, more detailed and more elegant.
Was this a conscious process?
It was a processed that developed. It is natural to develop and change.
While we are on the subject of illustration and typography: What is more important - talent or technique?
Illustration and typography are two very different fields... Talent is definitely important in illustration, even if technique is an important tool nowadays. After all, it is often the idea that is more important than the implementation in illustration.
Do you distinguish between illustration and independent drawing?
Absolutely! Illustration is after all primarily contract work and contract art. The idea is important, the design compromises that one has to make when working with the contractor are of course a big difference to independent work. But this is also exactly where the attraction of illustration lies - using the different mentalities and freedoms so that a work can develop in its own right.
As well as doing contract work, you also work as an independent artist - can you weigh up which one is more important to you, or, possibly better, which one benefits you more?
The independent work came about as a result of my work as an illustrator. My illustration style and my independent work are not all that different from each other. And the more I do for exhibitions, the more my illustrations are influenced. The independent work is important for experimentation and to be able to work in a series. I love the idea of painting for an exhibition, but I also have to find the time to do so each time. It is a difficult balancing act, because then I also have to refuse contracts. Both of them benefit me a lot - I could not choose between the two.
What is a typical working day like for you?
I'm a morning person and like to be in the studio from about 9 am. There I have a coffee and start checking my e-mails. I work for customers all over the world and almost all my enquiries and correspondence is by e-mail. When I get a job, I do some sketches and then come to an agreement with the customer. After approval, I start on the original illustration. That means paint on a palette and priming and painting!
What materials do you usually use?
I mostly work with acrylic paints on wood, paper or chipboard..
Your works were scanned for your editions in the LUMAS portfolio. Each of your works is available in two sizes; the larger version as an original photo print and the smaller as a pigment print on Hahnemühle paper. Do you have a personal favourite?
I like the prints on Hahnemühle paper. I especially like the new works from the Africa series. My favourites are "African Beauty" and "African Antoinette", which I painted for an individual exhibition in South Africa. The works on paper have a structure which is very similar to that of the original. The large versions as photographic prints of course also have an incredible brilliance and "wow" effect, but the matt version on the structured paper is more similar to my originals.
Your works are so detailed and delicate that care must be taken in reproduction that none of this is lost. What do you consider to be the challenges for the laboratory?
My works have a specific texture and patina which must absolutely be retained in the prints. That is particularly difficult for the works on light, almost-white backgrounds. This was done very well, however, in the LUMAS editions of my works, which were completely produced by WhiteWall.
What does a professional photo lab have to achieve in order to convince you?
The texture of the paint and the brush strokes can be seen brilliantly in the prints on Hahnemühle paper...it's almost like looking at an original.
Do you remember the first time you drew consciously and what the result was? Was there a defining moment?
As a child I was already drawing all the time, I was interested in art from an early age.
Which topic areas and motifs appeal to you the most?
I love floral elements, people, animal and the connections between these subjects. I also love connecting the aesthetics of different cultures with one another. I think of it almost as a type of collage.
Are there also subjects that don't interest you at all or is everything a question of presentation?
If it moves me, it is a question of presentation, but inspiration is important.
Which of your works are you particularly proud of?
My exhibition in South Africa: "Dark clouds are gathering" in the Whatiftheworld Gallery.
Do you collect art yourself? What role do drawings, graphics and maybe even photography play in your life?
I collect art and go to galleries and exhibitions. I collect drawings and paintings by young contemporary artists, folk art and African art.
If you could choose anything you liked - which work of art would be hanging on your wall?
I think there would be a list of wonderful works of art that I would like to have. However, if I could really choose something for myself, I would go for one of the fascinating drawings by Henry Darger and a wall sculpture by Nathan Carter.