By: Colin Berry | June 1, 2008
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 artist-illustrator.
“Ana was agreeable and easy to work with,” says Joe Newton, deputy art director at Rolling Stone, 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 says.