Olaf Hajek

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Olaf Hajek is a German-based illustrator, painter, artist, graphic designer, and author.

Hajek uses folk culture, mythology, religion, history, and geography to explore the opposition between imagination and reality within our culture.

Born in North Germany, Hajek splits his time between his homeland, London, and New York City. Originally studying to be a graphic designer, Olaf switched to illustration and taught alongside the likes of Punk fashion legend, Vivienne Westwood.[1] He quickly gained a following for his bold combinations of color, texture, and strong themes, and his success led to illustrating numerous advertising campaigns, art shows, clients, and awards.

Hajek’s illustrations have been featured in publications like The Financial Times, The New Yorker, Playboy, Rolling Stone, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, GQ, and Architectural Digest.

Personal life[edit]

Olaf Hajek was born December 12, 1965 in Rendsburg, Germany, along the Northern frontier to Denmark. Though he was born in Germany, he was raised in the Netherlands before attending art school. Hajek originally went to art school at Fachhochschule Düsseldorf to study graphic design, yet switched to illustration classes when he decided he did not want to spend his career in front of the computer. Spending his early professional years in Amsterdam, he took advantage of the social scene to gain connections as a freelance illustrator. His work primarily as an illustrator gained him many print and advertising campaigns, and Hajek became a strong asset in the Global Contemporary Art Community, even teaching alongside famed fashion designer Vivienne Westwood.[2]


Hajek’s work shows strong influence from Frida Kahlo, Botticelli, and Cuban advertising posters from the 1960s. Though he claims his favorite color is blue, Hajek’s work takes full advantage of the color spectrum, and he is known for expressive use of the color palette. His other common themes are “magic realism,” as focuses frequently on wonder, heroic acts, hallucinations, and fairytale motifs. He juxtaposes and explores the opposition between imagination and reality in the context of western cultures. Essentially he captions reality, and plants them within mystical frameworks.[3]

One of Hajek's admitted secrets is his ability to get inspiration from all kinds sources. He takes ideas from books and magazines, Native American artwork, folk art, to his favorite thing to paint, nature, and flowers especially. In fact, most, if not all of his works feature nature and flowers as a focal point, and as a common thread between his works.


Hajek paints his illustrations, and his typical medium is acrylic on cardboard, paper, or wood. Olaf Hajek prefers to work as a painter for all his illustrations. Hajek never works on a digital medium, and his works always retain their valuable graphic feel, despite their painted appearance.[4]

Notable Pieces[edit]

Part of Hajek’s success comes from his wide range of themes and focal points, and has been featured everywhere from book covers to postage stamps. Drawing on popular celebrities, fairytale motifs, heroic acts, mythology, folklore, and juxtaposing the themes with common ideas and objects, he brings a new interpretation, and proves why he is a master illustrator, and go-to in the business. His notable pieces for fashion houses include YSL Maxim Fashion, Dior Maxim Fashion, Gucci Maxim Fashion, Helmut Lang Maxim Fashion, and Lacroix Haute Couture. He has also done portraits of notable figures including Chuck Berry, Kristian Schuller, Kurt Cobain, Fiona Miliner, and Claudia Skoda. In many cases, his advertising work is just as famous as his gallery pieces. His artwork is featured in campaigns for United Airlines, advertisements for the Coca-Cola factory in Copenhagen, an Apple educational ad, Ritz Carlton USA, Design Hotels, a Vodafone advertisement, Love Berlin, and finally, the Olympics. He also does frequent magazine work, with his most notable illustrations titled Lost Authors in Neon Magazine, Oveset Magazine Berlin, Rolling Stone, and Shoes for The New York Vertica Brochure. Some of his most famous gallery works include Underwater Ballet, Foret Noir, White Black, La Vie, the Nature Man series, Masked Girl, Iris, Voyage Voyage, and Corner 2 Frei.[5]


As an illustrator, Hajek has been hired by many big companies and clients. He has done illustration work for many big clients including Apple, United Airlines, Macy’s, Bloomberg Inc, Bacardi, The Ritz Carlton, Nike, Daimler Chrysler, and Barney’s.[6]

In 2011 Hajek was hired by 25hours Hotel, a German chain, to design the wallpaper for their hotel opening in Vienna. For the interior design project, Hajek made a set of prints, which were made into high resolution and adapted to the dimensions of the walls. The prints were made to match the color concepts of each suite, but despite the color criteria, the wallpapers are very distinctly Hajek. Featuring his common mystical themes of the circus, African folklore, and a vivid imagination, the wallpapers express a different idea in each of the 34 suites.[7]


Hajek has illustrated for many publications including The New Yorker, NZZ, SZ Magazin, Shape, Bolero, The New York Times, Gourmet, Paste, Time Magazine, Stern, Architectural Digest, The Wall Street Journal, IO Donna, MAN, Travel & Leisure, Forbes, Playboy, Business Week, Capital, The Financial Times, Food Illustrated, LA Times, and the Royal Mail.[8]

Being an admired and notable illustrator, Hajek is also featured in many books, including American Illustration, Illustration Now, 200 Best Illustrators Worldwide: Lürzer's Archive Special, and Freistil 1& 2. Hajek has also illustrated the beautiful nature scene on the cover of The New York Times 2009 Book Review.[9]


Hajek has won: The Silver Award UK (2003), The Gold Award at Art Directors Club Europe (2003), The Silver Award at Art Directors Club Germany (2003), Leadaward Gold (2004), and the Leadaward Silver (2004).[10][11]


Most of Hajek’s gallery and art exhibitions are premiered in the city where he primarily works, Berlin. In 2004 Hajek had first Group Exhibition at NOTANGO, Berlin. In 2006 Hajek had his second Berlin show, as an Illustrative Preview at the Galerie Johanssen. He opened three shows in 2007, in locations all over the globe. He opened at the Illustrative 07 in Berlin, and then Paris, as well as being featured in the Group Exhibition BBAX07 in Buenos Aires. His work was featured in more Berlin shows in 2008 and 2009, and once again at the Galerie Johanssen and Illustrative 09 for his Maskerade exhibition. His most recent exhibitions were his Maskerade exhibition at the Marci Wood Gallery in Atlanta, Georgia and the Whatiftheworld Gallery in Cape Town, South Africa in 2011.[12][13]


Flowerhead was Hajek’s first book released in Europe February 2010 by Gestalten. It was released internationally in March 2010, and is full of his editorial and advertising work, including commercial portraits, fashion illustration, and his own personal pieces from over the years.[14]