Mindzai Featured Artist Series - Greg ‘Craola’ Simkins
If there was ever a prototypical balance of highbrow and lowbrow art merging together with a seamless flow, Greg ‘Craola’ Simkins would be the quintessential example of that confluence. Initially born and raised 30 minutes south of Los Angeles, in Torrance California, Greg’s existence was a combination of growing up with a lot of animals, specifically rabbits and graffiti all over his neighborhood streets and ditches.
The rabbits inadvertently influenced Greg’s impressionistic take on interpreting and expressing his street sensibilities with a reverence for books such as Watership Down by Richard Adams, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. It’s as if Greg maintains his childlike innocence and wonder, and continues to develop his inner universe that weaves a narrative that creates a consistent and splendorous journey throughout both his gallery and street work.
Maybe that’s part of the resonance that he’s had with a lot of Hollywood artists that are Craola’s collectors. Many Hollywood films, at their best, uphold the theme of mythologist Joseph Campbell classic “The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949)”. I say this because Joan Bridgman’s analysis of Watership Down’s Author Richard Adams in ‘The Contemporary Review’ identifies the community of hero motifs:
“The hero’s journey into a realm of both terrors to bring back some boon to save himself and his people.” This is a powerful element in Adam’s tale. This theme derives from the work of Joseph Campbell; in particular, Campbell’s “monomyth” theory, also based on Carl Jung’s view of the unconscious mind, that “all stories in the world are really one story.” You see and feel these layers upon examining and really appreciating Greg’s work.
In 2005, Greg became a full time artist. He’s been featured in Juxtapoz. He’s been a part of various group exhibitions and has sold out solo exhibitions. The list of demand and recognition, as well as being a part of the collections of various world renowned artists/businessman, and all the likes of: Stacey Ferguson “Fergie” (Singer), Stefan Lessard (Bassist for the Dave Matthews Band), Joseph “Joe” Hahn (DJ for Linkin Park), Mike Shinoda (Rapper, Musician for Linkin Park and Fort Minor) Joel Madden (Lead Singer for Good Charlotte), and many more.
One of the artists/filmmakers that really resonated with me is Nick Cassavetes (Film Director for My Sister’s Keeper, The Notebook, Alpha Dog). Nick wrote the foreword to one of Greg's 5 books which include “Drawn To The Well”, “The Outside”, “I’m Scared”, self titled “Greg ‘Craola’ Simkins” and “Draw 2 the Well”. Nick’s contribution was for “The Outside”.
I learnt about Nick Cassavetes through a Martin Scorsese course at UTEP where I was introduced to the film world that changed my life; and that is the cinema of Nick’s father, John Cassavetes.
Cassavetes’ work resonated with me so thoroughly having been raised by a single mother in the projects of El Paso. I grew up adoring Scorsese’s ‘Mean Streets’ for it reminded me of the gangsters and charismatic ‘hoods’ in my ‘barrio’. So learning that Scorsese was inspired by Cassavetes changed my understanding of what film was, is, and could be. Cassavetes lived by the principles of taking your story to the streets, ridding oneself of the studio system, focusing on character driven motifs.
He embodied the adage of ‘keeping it real’. His first film “Shadows” based in the streets of New York City, predated the French New Wave movement in 1953. He took his character and story to the streets of New York. It’s fitting that Nick Cassavetes would love Greg ‘Craola’ Simkins. They both, in their respective fields, come from the same school of the streets, so to speak.
It may sound like much, going into the rabbit hole, pun intended. But what else is expected upon diving into the distinct imaginative universe that Greg ‘Craola’ Simkins creates. My attempts to describe his work allow for word combinations such as Hyper Classical Pop, Neo Urban Surrealism while at the same time being ineffable; almost like why would you try and describe it, when taking it in, is so much more satisfying. I’m not sure if it’s deliberate, but I see some MC Escher, Hieronymus Bosch and Salvador Dali influences, only with a contemporary palette.
All this started in the streets of Torrance and into Los Angeles. Greg is a part of one of the most famous graffiti crews in the world, CBS (Can’t Be Stopped). When he first painted as Crum, he knew, with pride, that he'd be a graffiti artist the rest of his life. Then in the early 1990’s he started to paint as Craola. That’s when his imagination took flight. Greg, even at this point, still prefers above other artforms, graffiti.
Graffiti energized Greg to create art. It’s almost like a stamp of authentication that resonates with the collective awareness of the people that ultimately matter, people who may need the graffiti/mural art as a kind of representational life line. And in order for that authenticity to remain relevant, the artist must come down from his personal ivory tower and connect to the masses in a way that might play a role in setting some new trend.
Even though Greg received his Bachelor’s Degree in Studio Art from California State University of Long Beach in 1999, much of what he’s learned came from the pressure, tension, and austerity of learning to paint in the streets alongside older graffiti artists. It is painting on that edge where the broader scope and utility of colors and vast landscapes ignited the details of his universe.
And though he’s certainly a part of the historical mastiff of CBS; he’s also a member of the crew WAI. It’s an acronym for multiple titles, 2 of which are Who Am I, and Writers And Illustrators.
He also paints for the crew LORDs (Legends of Rare Design). One of the painters LORDs is Austrian painter Nychos. Nychos has a great short documentary ‘1111’ that was cathartic and inspiring to me, in terms of dispelling the blockages within. And that inspires the creation from a standpoint that isn’t based in pain and darkness.
Greg’s is on a creative journey that is deeply rooted, while at the same time, consistently expansive. He genuinely likes to connect with great new artists and his foundations in the graffiti and art gallery world have almost been made sacred by his friendship and connection to the Juxtapoz family.
Greg has a long time admiration of Robert Williams, one of the co-founders of Juxtapoz magazine, (alongside deceased Greg Escalante). One of his heroes is Gary Baseman, a pioneer of the Pop Surrealism style. These affiliations are a result of a world class artist that continues to redefine what global pop culture is and can be, without exuding the pretense of what these kinds of labels can elicit.
I asked Greg about his involvement in the NFT world. He actually adapted one of his pieces into the developing binary realm of block chains and Discord networks and this ever evolving world. His NFT did really well and sold much, but with the consultancy of his wife, they stepped back and are simply observing what the market is and can become. In this case, Craola’s muse continues to be what he’s always been doing, and that is converging his fantasy realms, natural impressionisms onto canvas and the walls of the streets. The connection continues to pulsate.
Greg was recently commissioned to paint the famous painting “Beyond The Golden Afternoon” for pilot Mike Daniel. He was introduced to Mike by mutual friend Eric Bond over at Spin Imaging. Spin Imaging is responsible for wrapping Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic Unity 22, one of their many awesome projects. This project required exact measurements in order to be wrapped properly.
Mike wanted to commission a Cheshire Cat piece that would look great at his home while at the same time, fit the exact measurements of the plane. It was a fun project for Greg because it provided him the opportunity to paint a Dodo bird for the first time. You can see the video of the process at the Compton airport on his Youtube channel. One of the things I enjoyed about writing this blog was researching Greg's videos. They’re well done and have serene music to accompany them.
While Greg’s focus and innovation continues to flourish, his ultimate masterpieces are the fine balances of being a great father to 2 boys of 10 and 15 years, and being a great husband to the Queen of his sublime kingdom.
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