When it comes to art, I have a bias towards the vividly imaginative. Certain illustrative works are windows into childlike worlds, where color, whimsy, and spirits abound. The separation between fine art and illustration is growing smaller. We can look to Henry Darger's oeuvre, a collection of 15 separate manuscripts, each 145 pages--with hundreds of drawings and watercolor paintings illustrating the stories--as the point at which illustration becomes fine art. Today, master illustrators such as Olaf Hajek, are being recognized for their art in publications such as Lürzer's Archive 200 Best Illustrator's Worldwide.
Well-known galleries are increasingly representing illustrators and comic book artists. One of my favorite contemporary art galleries is the Adam Baumgold Gallery. Baumgold sells the astounding graphite on paper works by John Borowicz, the comic art of Charles Burns (author of the graphic novel, Black Hole), the ink on paper works by Rene French, and various other examples of contemporary art that reside in the territory between illustration and traditional fine art.
Hajek's works stand on their own as fine art. They do not need the context of the magazine or publication to illuminate them. There is a prevailing style that is characteristically Hajek, and each illustration is a full composition. Particularly, I like the fine-lined figures that evoke the artwork of a child. At the same time, however, Hajek's art reflects a sophistication of design, in which fantasy elements and real-life elements are brought together into harmony. Objects in the illustrations are full of life-affirming beauty, and yet the scenes also give way to esoteric mystery.
What is the future of illustration? I see illustration as gaining importance to fine art collectors. Our world, which is entrenched in images, is best represented by these image-centric illustrations. You need not look far on the Internet to see what our visual culture has become. We consume images daily, identify with them, avatar them, collect them, bookmark them, put them on our iPhones and screen savers; in short, we decorate our lives with them. But know that these illustrations are not merely decorative. They are imaginative works that add a level of depth and mystery to our lives.
Master illustrators such as Olaf Hajek are emerging as a new breed of contemporary fine artists. Their art plays with the boundaries between high and low, pushes the threshold between comics and paintings, challenges the division between commercial and personal work. We are seeing it now, as illustrators display their works on the Internet by the thousands. Their vividly imaginative renderings create the visual diversity of the web, and in the process, make our experience of web-surfing even more delightful. How wonderful it is to come across the fanciful images of an unknown illustrator. It feels like a true discovery.