Renowned artist and illustrator Olaf Hajek maintains his studio in Berlin’s center-most district, Mitte.
You might have seen his work in The New York Times Book Review.
Recently, I caught up with Hajek for this interview.
1) You’ve done some delightful work for the Autorenbuchhandlung Berlin. Please tell us about the Autorenbuchhandlung.
“The Autorenbuchhandlung is a bookstore on Savignyplatz. The name means “Author’s Bookstore.” Berlin’s Autorenbuchhandlung has an unusually close relationship with writers; it is famous for readings as well as other literary events. The Autorenbuchhandlung publishes a quarterly literary magazine, for which I create covers.”
(Ed. — Here is one of Olaf Hajek’s covers for the Autorenbuchhandlung‘s magazine Geistes Blüten. Geist is a German word that can mean either mind or spirit, while Blüten means blossoms. The theme for the issue shown was Leidenschaft — the German word for passion).
2) What were some of the inspirations for “Cosmic Ocean,” your contribution to The Water Tank Project in New York City?
“The Water Tank Project is an art exhibition but also an awareness campaign meant to call attention to the global water crisis. It was a great honor to be part of this project. My contribution, “Cosmic Ocean,” installed around the water tower atop 2 East Broadway, is like an underwater fairy tale. I think of water as being a unique symbol, an unknown and mysterious world full of secrets — truly wondrous as an inspiration.”
(Ed. — For a more detailed view of Olaf Hajek’s “Cosmic Ocean,” go here).
3) I’m intrigued by the cover you did for the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco’s Fall Guide, 2014. When you receive a commission like that, how do you decide which elements to include in your work?
“The Jewish Community Center of San Francisco asked me to create a poster for their fall 2014 program. The brief described the center’s different activities, including educational and cultural offerings. In this case, because I tend to work intuitively, I imagined images while reading the brief and then quickly knew which direction I wanted to go. As you can see, I played with the concept of a tree, which I love; all of those roots and branches and leaves and flowers. This cover shows a robust Tree of Life that enables the flourishing of the many different themes in play.”
4) If you were to recommend just one restaurant for people to try in Berlin, which restaurant would it be and why?
“Before I answer your question, let me say that Berlin is constantly changing, and sadly, some restaurants that were long my favorites have closed — though the city’s constant change does keep things lively and exciting. These days, to have a bite with friends or family in Mitte, I like Papà Pane di Sorrento Pizzeria. It’s right around the corner from my studio. I really love the big open space and the lively atmosphere.
For a more sophisticated dinner I recommend Lokal in Mitte’s beautiful old Jewish quarter. Lokal offers a really delicious local cuisine, using only the most sustainable of ingredients for its changing menu of German staples. The interior — (ed. — see photo below) — is simple but sophisticated.”
5) What are you working on these days?
“I just returned from 3 months in Cape Town where I prepared a new solo show at the Whatiftheworld Gallery. Right now, I’m working on a number of illustration commissions. Starting November 1, 2016, I’ll be having a new gallery exhibition in Berlin’s Anna Jill Lüpertz Gallery. And, a book about my gallery work from the past 5 years is currently in preparation; I believe it will be published by the end of 2016.”
Here is a still life from Olaf Hajek’s 2013 show Strange Flowers.