01/22/2013 10:07 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Artist Valeriya Volkova Is ON OUR RADAR: Painter Talks Pizza, Reddit And Ninja Turtles (PHOTOS)

Anyone can tell you who's already made it, but HuffPost Arts & Culture's On Our Radar series is here to tell you who's about to blow up -- and, in some cases, go pop.

We first fell in love with bizarro illustrator Valeriya Volkova when her boyfriend posted her work on Reddit as a birthday present. Her paintings, depicting imagined lands where retro TV cartoons meet surrealist hallucinations, immediately went viral. We talked to the colorful artist about her uncanny vision, moving to the U.S., and her obsession with "Doug." Scroll down for a slideshow of Volkova's work.


HP: What are you trying to say with your work? And what are you saying specifically with your awesome pizza painting?

VV: My work is a reflection of a universe I think would be fun to inhabit. You have your little towns on the hillside, your funny looking neighbors and favorite restaurants, but every so often a monster crawls out of a lake and ends up next to you on the bus, or your coffee starts yelling at you for being rude. I want each piece I do to be a small chunk of this larger universe. Every image is a different glimpse into this world.

It's funny... "Pizza Eating Pizza" is definitely my most internet-friendly piece, but I didn't even like pizza as a little kid! I moved to the U.S. from Russia, where melted cheese on tomato sauce wasn't really a thing. I'd shamefully peel the cheese off at pizza parties and hide it in the corners of the box. In college, my good friend (and designer of many pizza-related objects) Steph Mantis ... took me to her family's pizza shop in Maine, and I fell in love. "Pizza Eating Pizza" sort of came from me finally understanding and embracing the pizza culture, the gobbling up of delicious cheesy, drippy messes.

HP: Who are your influences?

As far as artists, [Salvador] Dali might be a cliche to cite as an influence, but his work was definitely my first foray into surrealism and general weirdness when I was younger. Hieronymous Bosch is a huge inspiration -- he was ridiculously ahead of his time. All religious implications aside, "The Garden of Earthly Delights" is basically a scene from what would be the best sci-fi movie ever. I saw it in person once, and there was this incredible magic quality to it, like if you looked at it long enough you'd eventually understand the mysteries of everything. Henry Darger is definitely a big influence -- I try to emulate the expansiveness of his work, how each scene adds to this huge story and universe.

Aside from traditional artists, I've always been in love with cartoon towns from '90s Nickelodeon shows, like "Hey Arnold" [New York] and "Doug" [the fictional town of Bluffington]. Animation in general has always had a big impact on the way I create. There are many cartoons from my childhood in Russia that continue to inspire my work. (I highly recommend looking up "Alice and the Mystery of the Third Planet" on YouTube -- it's an amazing hyper-colorful 70's animated movie about the adventures of a little girl from the future.)


HP: What are you obsessed with right now?

VV: I think right now I'm just obsessed with going places that inspire me and having new experiences and adventures. My boyfriend got me into hiking and camping, and it's had such a huge impact on me and my work.

HP: What movie/book/artist are you embarrassed about not knowing?

VV: I moved to the U.S. in 1997, so I missed out on a lot of basic American pop culture from the early '90s, and have been trying to catch up ever since. For example, I just watched all the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle" movies a few months ago, which is shameful. I'm also sad to say I've never made it through more than 20 minutes of "Star Wars" without drifting gently off to sleep.

HP: How would your childhood art/music teacher describe you?

VV: Suspiciously quiet.

See Volkova's works below and let us know what you think in the comments.

Valeriya Volkova