When illustrator Ruben Baghdasaryan was learning the choreography to Beyoncé's "Crazy In Love" as a child, he could have never imagined that years later, he would be working alongside the singer to craft her merchandise line.
Over the past four years, he done far more than become a celebrated member of the Beyhive — he's created something for someone he loves. It's the modus operandi for all of Baghdasaryan's work, making something that far extends beyond pencil and paper, marking a turning point in his life of illustration and art.
Since then, one can argue that the Los Angeles-based illustrator has "made it" in the industry, working with juggernauts like Jacquemus and being flown out for client commissions. Despite a growing recognition of his talents, Baghdasaryan's work reflects the pleasures of everyday life — the artistry that exists in the simple act of being — rather than the lofty lifestyle he could easily fall into.
The artist creates sunflowers sitting on windowsills, ladies strolling in their Sunday best, models strutting down the couture catwalk; it's a simplicity like no other. Detailed canvases and rough sketches alike cover the range of his work, appealing to a modern, refined art consumer with various tastes. While illustration isn't always associated with the runway world, the dedicated art style has been making a resurgence over the last few years, with more and more brands paying attention to craftsmanship in painting.
PAPER caught up with Baghdasaryan to discuss the impact of social media in fine art, being in the Beyhive and the inspirations behind his continuing craft.
Tell me a bit about your humble beginnings. How did you first stumble upon illustration?
I've drawn for as long as I can remember. Went to art university for five years and after graduating in 2014 I moved to Los Angeles. Finding my studio was a big happiness and it was something I was looking forward to having my own space, where I can keep creating and surround myself with my own paintings, and each one has different energy and story to tell. I started to put more hours into my art when I used to work as a web designer but in the meantime I was coming home and sketching for hours until I went to bed. It was very soul affirming and nourishing. Few years later I quit my day job and told myself that I just want to be a successful artist and more into fashion illustration instead of spending eight hours a day on something that I wasn't fully enjoying. I've always been passionate about what I was doing and one day I decided to create my own business and called it RUBEN STUDIO.
I know your dream was to work with Beyoncé, which you accomplished early on in your career. You loved her as a child, which must be so surreal having her be a client years later. How was the collaborative process between you and her team?
I still cherish those moments, imagine wanting something so badly and you finally getting it after eight years of hard work. I got lucky to work with her team twice. The first one was to design Christmas merchandise, and the last one was for Valentine's day. I kept the first samples of each collaboration in archival boxes, so for my first solo exhibition I can put those up and show myself off! Haha.
I read that you watched Beyoncé music videos growing up… Which was your favorite?
Well most definitely I would say "Crazy In Love ''. I was nine years old, and I still remember myself dancing in front of the tv and trying to learn the choreography (when it was just me in the house.)
Art is such a subjective industry, just like fashion. Are there ever any moments where you doubt your talent and your ability? Do you have any advice to move past those hard feelings?
I'm very hard on myself in regard to everything. I guess that's the downside of being an artist. I noticed that I'm obsessed with beauty, and I want everything to be beautiful and the way I create the visions in my head no matter in art or in relationships. And I have those days that I'm just not happy and I'm slowly starting to accept those days because it's a part of me. I don't like giving people advice and telling them what they should be doing, because I'm going to express that from my past experiences. The way I'm dealing with my feelings is I created a safe corner in my studio where I can just sit down and cope with painting, that's the safest place for me no matter where I go.
Are there any shows from this past fashion month (Spring 2022) you would love to draw?
Very much into Schiaparelli, really admired the silhouettes. I also loved the Alexander McQueen show! Would've been nice to sit inside of the inflated transparent bubble created by Smilijan Radić and illustrate Naomi Campbell live.
There's been so much said about art school, and whether or not they are truly beneficial within a young aspiring artist's life. What's your take on it, as someone who went to a structured institution like that?
It helped me a lot, I definitely learned a lot of tricks which helped me in future to be more successful even though my art skills come genetically. My great-grandfather was a famous Armenian artist, as my mom. Lucky me!
There's such an advantage to having a living, breathing presence on social media to promote your work and share your ventures with the world. How do you think breaking into the illustration industry would have been different if not for the presence of things like Instagram?
Yeah, it's an incredible medium and a total game-changer. I talk to my friends about this all the time - we all get into the trap of 'get more followers' but I've relaxed about it more in the past year. If people like my work, they will find it somehow and if they follow, great. If not, that's cool too. I've connected to amazing people, both artists and people who appreciate illustration. When I received a DM from Fern Mallis Team about collaboration, I was like, Wait, what? Is this for real? I've been very fortunate among all the artists that she particularly liked my style and chose me to be the artist for her upcoming project.
So much of interests revolve around fashion and music illustration. Are there any dream projects that lie outside of this intersection you'd love to explore in the future?
I do want to have a bigger studio, where I can just go and maybe not even leave for days. That has been my only dream lately, I imagine my studio by the beach, corner room so I can get tons of lightning. In regards to projects, I look forward to collaborating with big fashion houses such as Valentino, Dior, Prada but in the meantime I'm always trying to evolve in my personal work. Investing in your own growth now might be the best way to have more impact later, just keep doing what you love.
What do you think the next five years looks like?
An eye has to travel. Hopefully traveling will be much easier and hassle-free. Things have been changing drastically for me lately, so I'm just taking it day by day. Would love to see people with less anger and a much happier world that we can try to enjoy as much as we are given.
Photography: Erik Melvin