Ana Bagayan

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By: Colin Berry | June 1, 2008

When she was 6 years old, AnaBagayan and her family moved from the Armenian capital of Yerevan to aplace halfway around the world: Burbank, California—suburban andAmerican, as unlike Yerevan as the sun is the moon. Imagine: a littlegirl leaving a familiar city of 1.2 million with an ancient history, andarriving in a foreign metropolis of 13 million that barely existed acentury ago.

Luckily, the young Bagayan had a way to relieve thestress. “I didn’t really play with dolls, but I’d beendrawing my whole life,” Bagayan says, “whether it was formaltraining or just my mom trying to teach me.” She began taking herfirst American art classes, hating them at first but pressing on thoughhigh school. She liked the Flemish painters, the old masters. “Idid a report on Leonardo da Vinci,” she recalls. “I wasreally fascinated with him sneaking into hospitals and drawing bodyparts.” Also during those years, Bagayan discovered the graphicnovels of Dave Cooper, with their distorted human figures and torturedvisual psychodramas.

Surreal, slightly unsettling, yet oddly cheerful,her works are technically and compositionally sophisticated. The youngartist paints dreamlike scenes, candy-hued landscapes populated withfantastic animals and bug-eyed children, incorporating the dolls anddollhouses missing from her girlhood. Button-eyed bears sip cups full ofoctopi; devil children fly black balloons under skull-and-crossbonesskies. Flowers are everywhere.

In 2001, Bagayan enteredPasadena’s Art Center College of Design, where some of her classeswere taught by the Clayton Brothers, Alex Gross, and other artistsworking in the Lowbrow or Pop Surrealist genres. As a junior, shesubmitted her art to La Luz de Jesus, L.A.’s premier Lowbrowgallery. She got in. “Ana had original ideas and executed themwell,” recalls gallery director Annie Adjchavanich. Confidenceboosted, Bagayan sent her drawings to magazines—Boston,Spin, GQ—and began scoring gigs with companies likeSony, Diesel, and Ricoh. Since then, she’s shown her work in SanFrancisco and Seattle and begun creating a life as a freelanceartist-illustrator.

“Ana was agreeable and easy to workwith,” says Joe Newton, deputy art director at RollingStone, 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 shecaptured the band members’ likenesses while still maintaining herbig-eyed, bobble-headed style.”

Looking through Bagayan’sportfolio, it’s clear the young artist is propelled by opposingforces, balancing playful and sinister, innocent and evil, cute andcreepy. She herself is both gentle artist and savvy businesswoman andclearly, the contradiction suits her.

Another contrast: She’sfinally moved from suburban Burbank to Venice Beach, on the oppositeside 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 lotof meadows, and now I’m surrounded by them.” Bagayan saysshe’s changing her style slightly, desaturating her colors andplanning to incorporate the tropical plants she sees in Venice into herartwork. “I’m getting tired of painting flowers,” shesays.