Toni Morrison's Latest Novel Inspires Olaf Hajek
Toni Morrison’s latest novel, “Gold Help the Child,” explores levels of child abuse, using familial racism as a backdrop to discuss human mistreatment in ravaging, emotional ways. Kara Walker’s review in The New York Times is paired with an original painting by Olaf Hajek, distilling some of the emotional themes in his signature grace.
The novel’s most striking early image is that of the main character, Bride, whose skin is so black she’s nearly blue. “I thought this was a really nice element to take over into this image,” says Olaf. The heart of his painting is a representation of this character whose skin turned even her mother and father away from her, igniting an emotional brutality that would frame the rest of the narrative. Springing forth from Bride is a blue pathway that shifts and changes in its flow, a representation of a theme from the book. “Kara explained this idea of this river, which is floating and coming out this person’s mind and suddenly goes into different directions and finding its own way,” says Olaf. “it goes from this person, it’s a kind of river, which is coming from the dark into the light.” Using a symbol like this allows for Olaf to say more in his paintings than he could do with classic representation. It adds a depth to the image, communicating beyond simple depiction.
Even the most cursory look at Olaf’s paintings give a deep impression of rich color and deep texture, utilized with aplomb in the painting for Morrison’s novel. Olaf has been using texture like this since he started his career decades ago, but it came out of necessity. “When I started my career I was working on found materials like cardboard, but after a while I didn’t have to work on found materials anymore,” says Olaf. “I was working on cardboard and now I’m working on wooden plates. For me the texture and the material are very important. It’s not only the painting and the drawing itself, it’s also the material.” The drawing out of these textures means there is a timeless quality to each image compounded by his choice of subject matter.
When it comes to composition, Olaf draws from the natural world, as he did with the painting for The New York Times. “I always like to get some kind of symbolism into my work,” he says. “That’s why I work with natural floral botanical elements because they have this natural symbolism, which I can use for a lot of different emotions.” Plant life, rock formations, insects each carry with them inherent connections for every viewer that will reach deeply into each viewing experience, color their view. Regarding a painting is a remarkably solo endeavor, like reading a novel: everyone experiences it on their own.