Greg “Craola” Simkins Interview
You worked in clothing and graphic design before painting became your focus, did the companies you worked for help launch your name as a painter?
Just before I went head long into painting full time as my career, I was working at Treyarch/Activision as a texture artist. I basically was like a set painter, a level builder would give me a wire frame layout of objects and level — say a skatepark for Tony Hawk or a buildings interior for Spiderman. My job was to make them look like the things they were modeling. It was a fun job, my next favorite to painting full time. Before that I worked for JNCO jeans, and the only thing good I can say about that place is that I got to work with some very talented artists and draw a lot. It was my first full-time job and an experience I took a lot away from. Neither cases launched my name as a painter. I worked on personal paintings and artwork and walls as well as side projects doing band merchandise, CD covers, fliers and t-shirts all along the way, as I always have no matter what job I was doing, to make bill-paying income. My first jobs were as a janitor at 12 years old, pizza delivery guy, waiting tables, washing dogs, and all along the way I was making artwork. I think the personal work is what launched me as a painter, and the day jobs as an artist helped me hone my skills and build a work ethic in me.
Why do you use a nickname? Has using nickname done anything for your career, good or bad?
The plain and simple reason is I derived my nickname when I was 18 as my graffiti alias. People got to know me by it and soon would call me Craola instead of Greg. For all my years in the video game industry and clothing industry, I was know as Craola, mostly because there were other Gregs and I had a built-in name that could differentiate me. I don’t think it has helped or hurt. I’ve had the name for 18 years and it is what it is, I just hope the work has spoken for itself.
People typically think of graffiti as illegal. Do you get commissioned to do graffiti work?
Graffiti is illegal. Once it is done legally, it, by definition, is just a mural or what not. I have been commissioned to do graffiti art in the past for movie sets and similar [projects], but have always preferred to keep a lot of it to myself. The aesthetic creeps into my work as it has been a part of my thinking and visible language for so many years. I don’t try to push it away, if I think it will look good in something that I am working on as a fine art piece, then I paint it. Graffiti is a huge buzzword these days and rightfully so with so many talented artists whose expression came from that world. But there are so many styles going on under that umbrella that you can’t just label it. It’s like, say I like music, well what kind of music? It will appeal to different groups of people while repelling others at the same time. The artist doing that style of art doesn’t pick it as much as it picks them, it’s what appeals to them, it gives them their voice and a platform in which to tell their story.
You have an extensive merchandise line. How do you split your time between your art and the merchandise? And how does having the line benefit your art?
I spend the majority of time doing my fine art, about 90%. I enjoy making stuff that people want and can afford. I came out of industries where we made products, so it just made sense to me, and we have the capability to do it, so why not? My wife handles the nuts and bolts of it all aligning with our Imscared team, who really get the job done. I just make the art and leave the business to the people who are plugged in better that way.
You have a featured artists section on your Web site. Has a friend/colleague’s support of your work ever helped your career in a tangible way (a specific experience)?
The featured artist on my website is my friend Werk and he is my only featured artist. He built my website and is an amazing person and I will always owe him for his hard work. He is also an awesome artist and I have been able to paint many fun walls with. I have gotten so busy in the last few years with work and family that I have missed out on our continued wall paintings together, but hopefully will be able to do some more soon. He really did a great job on my sites, I am super grateful.
You find inspiration in nature and fantasy literature. What artists, if any, influence your work?
I enjoy Richard Adams, Norton Juster, C.S. Lewis, Alexandre Dumas, Rudyard Kipling, and the list could go on.
Where will we see your work next?
I have a show in Los Angeles next Year at Merry Karnowsky Gallery with Johnny KMNDZ Rodriguez that I am really looking forward to. I have some ideas put together that I am excited to paint and show everybody. There are other projects that I am working on that I can’t talk about yet, but busy is good, so I feel blessed.
Greg Simkins was born in 1975 in Torrance California, just south of Los Angeles. He grew up with a menagerie of animals including a number of rabbits, which often emerge in his paintings. He began drawing at the early age of three and was inspired by various cartoons and books. Some standout books that still find their way into his art are Watership Down by Richard Adams, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.
Simkins’ art continued to progress to the age of 18, when he started doing graffiti under the name “CRAOLA”. Graffiti art became his impetus for creating and gave him the confidence to paint large works. In addition it taught him perspective, color theory and further developed artistic skills, which later translated into his work with acrylics.
After receiving his Bachelor’s Degree in Studio Art from California State University of Long Beach in 1999, Simkins worked as an Illustrator for various clothing companies. He later moved on to Treyarch/Activision where he worked on video games including Tony Hawk 2X, Spiderman 2 and Ultimate Spiderman while attempting to paint with every free moment he had.
In 2005, Simkins pursued his desire to paint as a full time artist. Since then, he has been featured in numerous group exhibitions has had successfully sold out solo exhibitions. His art is seen in a wide variety of industries from clothing to video games and has also come to life in the form of toys. His client/collaboration list includes Disney, Mattel, Upper Playground, Juxtapoz, To Die For, Vans, Converse, AFI, Saosin, Gym Class Heroes, Pennywise, STRANGEco, Ningyoushi, Kid Robot, Zero Friends, Epitaph, Dark Horse, Iron Fist and Pulse International.
It is his careful weaving of pop culture, the old masters, nature, carnival kitsch, and (most importantly) his warped imagination, that makes Greg Simkins a sought-after surrealist painter today. Simkins’ artwork currently appears in galleries throughout the world.