Based in Berlin, artist Olaf Hajek creates pieces that are deeply invested in folklore and storytelling.

Creating rich canvases, as well as elaborately detailed illustrations, Hajek’s work references art histories from all over the world as well as myriad cultural narratives. We worked with Hajek on the newly opened St. Jane Hotel in Chicago where his unique work has been installed as part of the guestroom curation. His work can also be found in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, as well as Design Hotels and Ritz Carlton properties.

We spoke with the artist to learn more about his eccentric inspirations and artistic process.

Photo by Robert Rieger for fvonf.com.

You draw inspiration from a lot of different art historical references, what kinds of art historical movements or artists do you find most compelling to study?

I am always inspired by the power of simplicity and the imperfection of beauty. My aesthetic is inspired by American folk art and Indian miniatures, African art and South American murals. I love the Art of the Renaissance which combines the sophisticated realistic portraiture with the lack of perspective. My allegiance to American and African Folk Art Traditions manifests in my preferred medium, acrylic on cardboard and wooden boards and in the way I mess with proportions and perspective.

Photo by Sandra Juto.

You’ve mentioned before how being raised during Germany’s reunification lead you to look to the outside to other cultures. What kind of influence have you found by looking outward from your own immediate culture?

I am from post-war generation, who was educated to still feel the guilt of being German. Although German Culture is an amazing source of inspiration, I was trying to escape into something more colorful and joyful.

My interest in art and folk art started when I was still a school kid and somehow, I am seeing myself as a self-taught artist too.

Folklore plays an important role in your work; how do you weave those narratives into your pieces?

My body of work teams with figures whose faces, beards or bouffant hairdos are comprised of organic matter: Lyrical clusters of flowers, rivers, birds and fruits. I am expressing my own, hopefully modern version of the idea of the universe within, the secret garden of our internal lives.

Photo by Sandra Juto.

Your pieces often unfold as stories themselves. When your beginning a piece, is this something you have in mind?

Of course, I know the concept and have the vision, but the process of painting should be a journey of surprises and chance as well.

You work in both illustration and painting; how do you see these two practices informing one another?

I love being an illustrator and I love being an artist, working for gallery shows. As an illustrator I work for different clients, different briefings worldwide. I have to deal with different cultures and mentalities.

My personal art is important to reinvent myself and to experiment. This artistic experience is influencing my illustration work. I think the borders between art and illustration and design become less important. I just did an art collection for a textile company and will create work for a porcelain manufacture, just to mention a few new directions.

This interview has been edited for style and clarity. All images courtesy of the artist. 

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