Ana Bagayan

When she was 6 years old, Ana
Bagayan and her family moved from the Armenian capital of Yerevan to a
place halfway around the world: Burbank, California—suburban and
American, as unlike Yerevan as the sun is the moon. Imagine: a little
girl leaving a familiar city of 1.2 million with an ancient history, and
arriving in a foreign metropolis of 13 million that barely existed a
century ago.

Luckily, the young Bagayan had a way to relieve the
stress. “I didn’t really play with dolls, but I’d been
drawing my whole life,” Bagayan says, “whether it was formal
training or just my mom trying to teach me.” She began taking her
first American art classes, hating them at first but pressing on though
high school. She liked the Flemish painters, the old masters. “I
did a report on Leonardo da Vinci,” she recalls. “I was
really fascinated with him sneaking into hospitals and drawing body
parts.” Also during those years, Bagayan discovered the graphic
novels of Dave Cooper, with their distorted human figures and tortured
visual psychodramas.

Surreal, slightly unsettling, yet oddly cheerful,
her works are technically and compositionally sophisticated. The young
artist paints dreamlike scenes, candy-hued landscapes populated with
fantastic animals and bug-eyed children, incorporating the dolls and
dollhouses missing from her girlhood. Button-eyed bears sip cups full of
octopi; devil children fly black balloons under skull-and-crossbones
skies. Flowers are everywhere.

In 2001, Bagayan entered
Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design, where some of her classes
were taught by the Clayton Brothers, Alex Gross, and other artists
working in the Lowbrow or Pop Surrealist genres. As a junior, she
submitted her art to La Luz de Jesus, L.A.’s premier Lowbrow
gallery. She got in. “Ana had original ideas and executed them
well,” recalls gallery director Annie Adjchavanich. Confidence
boosted, Bagayan sent her drawings to magazines—Boston,
Spin, GQ—and began scoring gigs with companies like
Sony, Diesel, and Ricoh. Since then, she’s shown her work in San
Francisco and Seattle and begun creating a life as a freelance

“Ana was agreeable and easy to work
with,” says Joe Newton, deputy art director at Rolling
, for whom she illustrated a feature on the band The Killers.
“She had free rein to do what she wished, and I loved the way she
captured the band members’ likenesses while still maintaining her
big-eyed, bobble-headed style.”

Looking through Bagayan’s
portfolio, it’s clear the young artist is propelled by opposing
forces, balancing playful and sinister, innocent and evil, cute and
creepy. She herself is both gentle artist and savvy businesswoman and
clearly, the contradiction suits her.

Another contrast: She’s
finally moved from suburban Burbank to Venice Beach, on the opposite
side of L.A. “It’s really peaceful here,” she says.
The only thing I can hear when I work are birds and dogs. I paint a lot
of meadows, and now I’m surrounded by them.” Bagayan says
she’s changing her style slightly, desaturating her colors and
planning to incorporate the tropical plants she sees in Venice into her
artwork. “I’m getting tired of painting flowers,” she