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Home FEATURES Greg Simkins Interview

Greg Simkins Interview

Written by Manual Bello   
Wednesday, 24 October 2007 10:39
This graffiti artist recently turned pop surrealism painter just sold out a huge solo show in LA.

Greg "Craola" Simkins is a man who has no limits. His graffiti art has graced the streets of southern California for well over a decade. Over the last few years he has made a seamless transition into the world of pop surrealism. He is one of the few graffiti artist who has made such a clean break into fine art by reflecting a whole new style of illustration ability not seen in his street work. Every piece is it's own classic fable and has a story to be told. Greg Simkins is getting it done with one sold out show after another. We are proud to bring you the words and art of the one and only Greg "Craola" Simkins. -Manuel Bello

Greg, you and your work seem to have a very child like sense. You are a young adult but still have this child like enthusiasm. I can only imagine what you were like as a kid, care to shed some light on that.

Gosh, I was probably a nerd, but not totally. Through elementary school I would get into some trouble, more like mischief. Some of my buddies lived across from this hospital and me and my buddies would mess around over there a lot. We would be steeling the golf carts from the security guards and stuff and have them chase us around. The usual stuff like that. Then Jr. High started and with that came the awkward years and had to get glasses. I was probably the nerdy kid in the back of the room drawing on the table and on my notebooks and stuff. Really, I was withdrawn through Jr. High and into high school.

Describe a typical day for Greg Simkins.

Ah man, I get up at 6:30 everyday when the alarm goes off. I help my wife Jenn get ready for work and make her lunch, and us both breakfast. She heads to work and I answer some e-mails. By 9:00 I start painting or drawing up a painting by doing transfers; whatever I have to do, maybe a run to the post office. Usually I try to start painting by 9 or 10. I paint strait through the day. Maybe I would be eating a sandwich along the way, listen to books on tape while I am painting, or maybe listen to some music. I paint 'till about 6 or 7 then make dinner. I hang out with Jenn and Isaac or some friends. Things like that or if not I just keep painting or drawing. It's pretty standard, simple, and ordinary. Nothing crazy!

I know you have done video game design and paint and some other art. If you were not in the arts what would you be doing?

It is hard to say. I really like working around people, that is the thing. I don't get to be around people the way I used to be. When I was doing video games or even when I was waiting tables, it was really fun because there was always people around. Now it is a lot different. I mean it is nice to have a talk with someone on the phone or to go out and get lunch with a friend or something. It is cool, but it's just lonelier than it is working in a group setting. If there was a way to make serious money waiting tables I would be into doing that just because of the people factor. But really graphics and art is the only thing I thought I would be doing so it is all I really know. Although as a kid I always wanted to be a vet because I was an animal dork. I'm a bird nerd. But I guess I am doing pretty good with this art thing so I think I will just stick to it for now.

How did a nice guy like you fall into the dark underground world of Los Angeles graffiti?

I don't know man? Just friends I met. Some older kids liking my work when I was like 16, 17, telling me "you should try this". They were showing me some Can Control magazines. There were kids who I had been skating with who were all taggers. I started catching on pretty fast because I already had some art skills. So I was like "I wanna do this". I got hooked fast. There were these sewer tunnels near where we lived and we would always hit those spots. Then we started getting up on the freeways. Just getting up wherever we could. Then I started meeting guys from CBS and WAI. Those dudes really schooled me on how to do graffiti right. These guys really showed me a lot. Just by painting, we all became friends and the whole thing just seemed like a natural transition going into it.

Ever have any serious graffiti beef?

Not really, not personally. I always try to stay away from the beef. I don't write over people. There was one time. We hit this wall in LA that had already been dissed really bad. So the guys who were underneath the part that got dissed had thought we had caped them. We didn't and it was squashed pretty fast. For me there is just no reason for it. There are enough places to paint.

What kind of influence has graffiti had on your fine art work?

Graffiti taught me perspective, composition, and color theory in a big way. I was painting with guys like axis and other dudes like that. When you are working with guys who are that good you can not help but learn from them. Plus they were passing out a lot of hints. I think all the color theory and layout stuff transfered over really well to doing canvases and it felt really natural. Like cutting with a spray can to cutting with a brush was really similar for me. Later I learned other brush tricks, but the first paintings I was doing with acrylics felt a lot like working with spray paint just by the way I was laying in the paint.

You're still doing graffiti?

I painted a wall last Saturday but I hadn't painted a wall in a while. I like to try to get out a couple times a year if I can, but it is just so busy now. Things are pretty air tight. Jenn manages everything and keeps me on a pretty tight schedule which is good. It keeps me painting canvas's every single day. It keeps the money coming in, which is important. We Just had a baby, so I gotta think about my family first above and beyond anything else.

I know that in the past you have worked in video game design, how did you get involved in that and what made you leave?

I had a friend named who got me a job at this company that was bought out by Activision. The first game I worked on was Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2x which was for Xbox. They had brought me in as a texture artist. So I was doing 2d work, texture work, and a little bit of modeling. I basically went through and painted the cities to make them look real. I had to put in all the graff to make it seem real. I put all my friends in there. That was rad. They were stoked on that. It was the best job I had in my whole life. If I could have that same set up with the same people I would want to do it for the rest of my life. That project was like a big family and it was just fun. Then after that it got a little bit more corporate after Activision bought us. Even then it was still good. I can't complain. But then I was working on Ultimate Spiderman and I started getting some opportunities with some galleries like: Upper Playground and Gallery 1988. So I gave myself eight months to get under way and get it figured out and get it underway, it worked out. I have been painting full time ever since. Activision gave me their blessing and let me know I could come back whenever I want but luckily I have not had to.

Have you ever thought about animation or an animation project?

I have never thought about doing actual animating. I think it would be fun to develop an animation project or develop a movie or TV cartoon. I would definitely love to come up with the story and characters without having to get to labor intensive with the actual animation.

A lot of your work has this fable feel to it. Where do you get a lot of your inspiration from?

Inspiration for me comes from a lot of places. Animals inspire me, going to the zoo, watching nature shows. My Dad. Sometimes just being a mole. Going to church. A lot of my work has this spirituality to it that people don't usually catch. There is a coupe that you can look at and see. Like this piece called Matt Riddle which was my big piece at the last show I did at 1988. I want people to figure out what the whole story is about. Like with Matt Riddle people understand it's a riddle and they might try to figure out where it comes from. Or they might figure out where I come from. That is a good piece for people to stare at for a while and think: hey what is this kid all about?

Most of your work seems to tell a story. I can almost see it from one piece to the next. Is there an untold narrative to your work?

There is. There are stories to a lot of my pieces. Usually I want people to enjoy it for themselves and hopefully figure it out. It is kinda the mystery of it. Some of the pieces not as much as others, but there are stories with a lot of the paintings. Wether I come up with it before or sometimes afterwards. Sometimes I have them written out. I have note books full of these things, mostly for myself. I might show them to someone here and there but mostly for myself. Maybe for later in life to look back on.

Where do you get some of the names for you works, and are any of them based on actual people in your life?

Generally they are not based on real people. The name usually just comes to me when I start finishing it. Like this painting I just finished called "Nestor Headache". It had to be called "Nestors Headache". I don't really know why. He has a bee hive for a head so it just made sense, I guess. I just thought it was funny and it seemed to make sense. There is another character I have named Ms. Monsta, she has bugs for eyes and a red Alice in Wonderland dress. She just made sense.

What about Philip, who is Philip?

Philip is your little guy. I don't know why I called him Philip. For some reason when I was painting him he reminded me of some little prince or something. He actually reminded me of Peter and the Wolf. With that little hat he wears and what not. I just thought he looked like a Philip.

I know in the past you have done some little toy nick nacks, do you have any more product stuff in the works?

Yeah, I have a couple toys in the works with Strangeco. I also just did the gosho doll with Super Rad toys so that will be pretty cool. It is the little chubby guy. Dalek, did one and Kozik and some others. It's pretty cool that I am in there with a good group.

Any words of wisdom?

If you're an artist (or not), meet your deadlines, get your stuff done on time and treat people right.

Thanks to: Greg Simkins and Family Photos: Manuel Bello, Lineage Gallery and Gallery 1988

Interview conducted by our NYC correspondent, Manuel Bello. {moscomment}

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