Artists We Love: Olaf Hajek

WORDS Amelia Brown IMAGES Courtesy of Southern Guild/WHATIFTHEWORLD


VISI chatted to Olaf Hajek, a Berlin-based painter whose illustrations have been published in The New York Times and Vogue, amongst others, and who is known for his enchanting patterns, scenes and characters, about his new body of work, entitled Paravent, which is currently on show in Cape Town.

How did you develop your style and technique?

I’d describe my style as a mixture of realism and sophisticated naivety. I’ve always been moved by materials and textures; they’re important elements of my paintings and ones that I’ve developed over the years.

You created this body of work in Cape Town. How long were you here for and where did you base yourself? 

I was in Cape Town for three months from mid-December 2017 to create the body of work for my exhibition. My gallery provided me with a working space and I stayed with friends in different locations.

You have described Cape Town as your “second home and addiction”. What do you love about it? 

I’ve been visiting Cape Town regularly for 16 years, so I know it well and am addicted to its beauty and special energy. For the past six years I’ve exhibited my work in the city and I felt it was important for me to create my paintings “on site”. Cape Town’s nature has a very big impact on me – the mountains and sea; its lonely beaches; the wind and changing clouds. And I can’t forget all of the beautiful people and friends it’s home to. I love the diversity of the country, while I am aware of its complex political and social climate.

Did the city inspire or impact your work and this collection in any way?

Being situated in Cape Town has always had a big impact on the work I have created while here. For one, I’m away from the comfort zone that is my Berlin studio and, as a result, have to be more open minded and spontaneous. I feel a certain adrenaline being so far away from home, which I use as inspiration and to be more courageous.

Why did you choose the title Paravent?

The 14 acrylic paintings in my new exhibition depict still lifes, interiors, portraits and landscapes. Their theatricality is heightened by the recurring motif of a folding screen or “paravent” in French, which I think lends a more elegant and mysterious meaning. The screen creates its own mysterious space. Behind it, you can find a hidden world, but it also provides privacy and shelter.

If you weren’t a painter and illustrator, what would you be? 

I can’t imagine doing anything else.

What are you inspired by?

As a kid I was very interested in the Impressionist painters and their idea about light. Later, I was obsessed with the work of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele and how they captured beauty with a twist. As a student, Folk Art, Outsider Art and Art Brut became my obsession. I was always inspired and touched by the imperfection of beauty and the power of simplicity.

Describe where you create your pieces, both here and in Berlin?

In Berlin I have a ground floor studio with a big shop window, which I sit in front of. I sometimes feel like a fish in an aquarium! But it’s a beautiful, not-that-busy street in Mitte, Berlin. I am surrounded by my materials and a big shelf full of books on art and nature. In Cape Town I have to adapt to new work surroundings and be much more flexible, which may help me to be more adventurous.

What time of day do you prefer to work? 

I’m a morning person and like my routine. Shower, coffee, work.

If you could collaborate with a South African artist who would it be?

I love so many South African artists that it’s hard to say, but I guess I’d like to combine my work with a ceramic artist like Louise Gelderblom.

Do you have a career highlight?

No, not a specific highlight, but I love that my work is appreciated around the world, that I’m able to work with so many different clients, and that I still get surprised.

What’s next for you?

To enjoy the Berlin summer! I just finished an art collaboration with a German textile company and did an African-inspired artwork for the upcoming collection of a high street fashion brand in the UK. Of course, I have to think about a new theme for my next exhibition, which will be at the end of this year.

For more information on Olaf, visit the Southern Guild site or olafhajek.com. His exhibition, Paravent, presented in collaboration with WHATIFTHEWORLD, is on at GUILD, Silo 5, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town, until 12 July 2018.