Photography by Mr Marcus Gaab | Words by Ms Jodie Harrison
"Growing up, I would always look at American Illustration and dream of being in it. It was my bible," explains Mr Hajek, who was born in a remote town in north Germany, and now illustrates for companies around the world, from the Financial Times to Playboy and The Wall Street Journal. "I first appeared in it about ten years ago. That was a real milestone for me. It was really exciting." Now 45, Mr Hajek has been illustrating for more than 18 years, 16 of which have been spent in Berlin where he ended up after studying and becoming disillusioned with the field of graphic design. His distinctive Botticellian-style has made him one of the most successful illustrators in the world, which, in a time of digital dash, is no mean feat. Here, he lets us take a look inside his studio.
Tell us about your work space.
This studio is nice and airy. I had to get used to working on the ground floor in front of a big window. You do feel as if you are in a fishbowl sometimes. I share the space with my friend, the illustrator Martin Haake. Illustrating can be quite an isolating job; you spend hours on your own and only talk to people when you are negotiating with your client or your agent. After years of working alone, it's nice to work in the same room as another illustrator; whether it's to talk about an idea or discuss a problem.
Why do you choose to live in Berlin?
I spent years trying to escape Germany. I studied in Düsseldorf and lived in Amsterdam until it started to feel too small for me. I had to decide whether to go to London or New York but I was always curious about Berlin. Prior to moving here I had a love/hate relationship with the city but then I got offered a great apartment and I thought I'd give it a try. I soon discovered that even though the winters are horribly cold, the people are friendly and there's lots of creativity. As a German there's no better place to be.
How would describe your work?
A famous illustrator, Christoph Niemann, once described it as "pop-folk" and I like this idea, that it's a combination of my own naivety and simplicity with something more traditional and realistic. It's about my ideas of style and beauty, all brought together. My paintings look complex, but I try to keep a minimalistic element inside the work, so detailed sections will be combined with flat areas. I don't like perspective so my backgrounds are always pretty flat.
From where did your interest in folk art stem?
It's something that has always been there. I focus on things with a certain pattern or mood. I love the imperfection of beauty. I am obsessed with African and South American art. It's an old story.
"This is from a new materials shop in Kreuzberg called Modulor. It's one of those places that when you are in there, you think you need everything. It's a creative wonderland. They even have a club there I believe"
"My book of illustrations, titled Flowerhead, resulted in a lot of jobs. Commissions come from all over the place, even from Rio de Janeiro"
"I picked this up in a flea market in Berlin. I think it's from Brazil. I have no idea what it means but I think it's a strange and powerful piece. I got the bowling pin in New York. I love the pattern and texture on the wood"
Where do you find your inspiration?
Travelling is usually my main source. When I'm abroad I'm always at flea markets and museums looking for books and references. When you travel a lot you learn how to watch and how to find what you like.
Which artist's work do you personally follow?
One of my favourite artists is Henry Darger. He's an artist who only became famous after he died when they discovered his studio, which was something like Francis Bacon's studio in terms of the amount of work and the way he kept the space. He never exhibited his work but it's one of the most amazing collections I've seen.
Where do you tend to travel and work the most?
I'm about to go and live in New York for two months to meet with clients and do some work. Since the crisis in 2008 I stopped going - there just wasn't the work - but they are bouncing back so it's time for a visit. I've worked a lot for the American market. They pay better than the UK.
What's your preferred medium to work in?
I, like lots of illustrators, work mainly in acrylic as oil simply takes too long to dry. Sometimes you have to complete an illustration in a day so you just can't wait that long - you'd go very hungry! With acrylic, you can combine and work lightly with it.
What would be your advice for aspiring illustrators?
There are no rules, but it's very important for you to create your own style and ideas. You can copy and be inspired by others in the beginning but gradually you need to focus on what interests and inspires you. People want unique pieces of art, so you need to focus on that. You also need to be able to sell yourself and your work.
How do you approach dressing for your job?
I used to dress up a little for work but then discovered that my good clothes were covered in paint. On certain pieces, such as my Margiela shirts, a few splatters look quite cool but less so on tailoring and smart shoes. Since ruining more clothes than I'd care to imagine, I've dressed it down a lot. I love fashion but only in the right context.
What's the secret to having fun in Berlin?
Get someone who knows the city to take you out. Walk around rather than take taxis. The bars here are so much fun but you have to know where to go. Things are not as instant as other big cities and things are very spread out here. It takes a little time.