Some of you might remember my gushing review of Olaf Hajek's last book of work, Flowerhead. Well, the lovely crew at Gestalten sent me his new monograph, Black Antoinette, and it is every bit as resplendent if not more so. It contains a jaw-dropping sample of his recent work, including his book covers, portraits, illustrations, and more personal paintings. But rather than feeling disparate, the pieces share a throughline of feverishly vivid colors, teeming flower piles, and beings encrusted with symbols and feathers and jewels.
A favorite quote of mine is "Exuberance is beauty" as written by William Blake. It kept looping over in my head as I turned the pages of this beauteous book. Hajek traffics in maximalism; in ornamentation and Paradisic abundance, and it's breathtaking to behold. But don't let the chromatic orgy fool you. Though it's often joyful work to be sure, a lot of the paintings have a rough-hewn texture which lends them a bit of pathos. And amongst the rainbow-petalled explosion and New World headiness are tears and stormclouds and inky forest hearts. The titular section highlights his "Black Antoinette" series, which evokes thoughts of colonialism and the centuries-long subjugation of goddess worship - while heralding, perhaps, its renaissance. These are black madonnas, crowned with floral and faunal bouffonts, solemn, but roiling with life.
The book itself is an exceptional object. Hardcover, 152 pages, exquisitely bound and printed. It contains an intro by Dr. Philipp Demandt who heads up Berlin's Alte Nationalgalerie. In his essay, Demandt writes:
"Occultism and magic, exoticism and flight into surreal worlds rise like wisps of opium smoke from Hajek's paintings...though undercut by a reproduction of all morphology that is scientifically accurate. Hajek's art seems like a herbarium between faithful observation and the knowledge that every image is merely contructed, is merely ephemeral."
If that doesn't intrigue you, I don't know what will.