We had the good fortune of connecting with Greg “CRAOLA” Simkins and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Greg “CRAOLA”, the decisions we make often shape our story in profound ways. What was one of the most difficult decisions you’ve had to make?
For many years, I held a steady paying job with health benefits at the video game company Activision (studio: Treyarch). Notable titles I was lucky enough to work on are Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2X and the 3 different Spiderman games. During this time I was also honing my painting skills on the side and posting my finished works on my social media profiles, in those days it was Myspace, Friendster and my website, formerly called IMSCARED.com. My paintings began to take off and I was building a clientele online. It got to a point where galleries were reaching out to represent me and show my work. I was in a predicament. Keep the steady comfort of my job, or quit that job and venture into the unknown world of being a full time fine artist. It’s been 16 years since I switched careers and I haven’t looked back. Thanks to the careful planning of my amazing wife, Jenn, also to my amazing collectors and art dealers, I have celebrated many sold out solo exhibitions, shown all over the world, been in some key museum exhibitions, been a key note speaker at colleges and museums all over the country and about to publish my 5th book of art. I loved my job as a video game texture artist, and I look back fondly at all the people I met working there, but I can’t imagine what my life would look like had I never made that difficult decision.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My work is part of the art movement known as “Pop Surrealism” which is a blanket term which covers a variety of styles that present out their images which contrast with literal realistic art. I have made a name for my self with my animal, creature mash ups in fantastic landscapes and also posed as strange still lifes. I love incorporating cartoon elements in my work and lean towards an Aesop’s fables bit of story telling with my imagery. I have created a world one the past 12 years called “The Outside”. It is my Narnia, Oz, and Wonderland. Having been a fan of stories where one finds themself in a strange land after going through some portal, I have used this trope to allow myself many freedoms with the beautiful oddities I paint. The subject matter to my work has always come easy. I have been drawn to creating strange creature based works since I was a child and in my formative teenage years as a graffiti artist, I became known for this style as well. As I transitions from spray paint to a paint brush, I gave myself challenges with each painting. I would set goals on things to learn. I bought books full of the Old Masters such as Caravaggio, Bosch, Rembrandt, Durer, and Dali´to study. I learned how to present my work in the most professional ways possible and decided early on that I would get it in front of “as many eyes possible”. This became a repeated phrase in talks and interviews and I still believe it to be true. Social media has been key in doing this as well as showing in galleries and being highlighted in art magazines and such. What I would want the world to know most about my art is that it is created from the enjoyment of the imagination and from breaking rules to create absurd new ones. It is my escape from the troubles of the world and has become my own rabbit hole into wonderland.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
To begin the week, I would take them on a drive around the peninsula and perhaps stop for lunch at Terranea and hike down to the tide pools. On the drive back, I would try to hit the Esplanade at sunset and soak in the salt air from the Avenues and Torrance Beach. Maybe grab a bite to eat in the Riviera Village, Pedones Pizza is a favorite of ours. We would spend the next day in Hermosa Beach, grab a bite and some drinks on Pier Ave. then chill on the beach or skateboard down the Strand. The next day I would take them to East Downtown Los Angeles to the Art and Fashion district to see all the amazing graffiti that has gone up all over town. We would grab some tacos at one of the many delicious Taco stands and trucks and then maybe since we were already in LA and hitting the traffic, make it over to the Getty and spend the rest of the day soaking up the views and fine art. If we timed it right, we could go to an art opening at KP Projects Gallery (Merry Karnowsky Gallery) and get dinner and drinks with the artists afterwards That sounds like a pretty full week of driving and site seeing so I would invite some of our friends and neighbors and their kids over and I would bbq chicken and carne asada from Moy’s in Hawthorne and enjoy the company into the night. A good end to the week could look many different ways, feeling fancy, a trip to Laguna Beach might be in order, feeling like a different crowd, perhaps I would share my old haunts in Venice beach. If the kids were involved, I would take them to Harbor City skatepark. On the way to LAX to drop them off at their plane, I would take a detour into El Segundo and introduce them Mike Schreiber at South Bay customs and have him give a tour of his motorcycle and art collection and maybe if timed right, catch a band performing on his stage. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I have to shout out my wife Jenn Simkins. It is her hard work behind the scenes dealing with orders, the website and online store, business communication between galleries, business and more that has freed me up to create and be singularly focused on the weird worlds and creatures that reside in my head. I feel blessed to be able to do this career alongs side my best friend and value her mind and skills tremendously. This ship would sink without her.
Brent Broza Birdman Photography Dan Matsumoto