Valeriya Volkova grew up in the last days of Soviet Russia with Twin Peaks and Vinni Puh—the Cold War counterpart to Winnie the Pooh—on the TV set, and when she moved to America in 1997, it was probably like the ending scenes of 2001 where the spaceman dissolves into a dimension of pure visual insanity. Everything was so bright and vivid and loud, she says, and although she couldn’t speak English, she immediately tuned in to Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network’s now-classic kid shows. Now in 2013, that sense of endless strangeness and newness and that 8-bit-bright color palette live on in her own work, which delivers fractured and often hilarious reflections on the pop culture of her youth. Her Richard Scarry cityscapes, her anthropomorphic sunglass-sporting pizzas and her busy little wild animals captured mid-errand all combine to create a world that we’d all like to visit, if not quite live in—although that Pizza Person seems like a great neighbor.
You grew up in Russia. What is children’s television like there? How is it different from children’s television here? I think it has a lot to do with the time period as well as the culture because most of the shows I grew up with were from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Russian cartoons were a lot folksier and more homemade looking to me. There were a lot of puppets, claymation and watercolor backgrounds, which really appealed to me as a little kid. I loved the Russian version of Winnie the Pooh—his name was Vinni Puh and he just kind of wobbled around and said existential things. I moved here in 1997 when I was 9 and started watching Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network shows, and they were so bright and vivid and loud. It was like going from the ‘70s to the mid-1990s all at once. That funky style of color and animation always stuck with me as a formative ‘coming to America’ experience. I skipped a grade, so I was taller and older than most of my classmates, but could not speak English at all.