Artist Greg “Craola” Simkins
Photo by Brent Broza

Photo by Brent Broza

It was a summer evening in late August as I prepared for my night as the floor Somm at the restaurant.  Our restaurant business brings many eclectic types of people together from foodies, oenophiles, fashionistas, critics and of course the locals.  One night, my eye was instantly drawn to a beautiful woman dressed in a simple white blouse with the coolest designed leggings. It was a great picture. Her sitting there against the deep blue leather of our booths, her leggings, popping off her legs framed by our walnut floors, it was beautiful. I did not recognize the designer, but thought it could be Alexander McQueen or Stella McCartney. On her way out I complimented her on her styling and asked her about her leggings and where I could get some. She said she wasn’t sure, but gave me her friend’s name who was the artist that designed them.  I didn’t have to even write it down because it was easy to remember – “Craola“.  I went to his site to do some shopping when I was lured into viewing his work.  As I discovered everything Greg “Craola” Simkins was up to in the art scene, I was completely surprised to find out he was a native of  Torrance, CA., right here in my backyard.  Now, the South Bay is mostly known for it’s beaches and volleyball – not art.  So as a NY transplant living in a beach community I have to seek out and travel outside the area get my “culture” fix.  Since my kids share the creative gene, I try to instill a variety of experiences in their lives too.  As I began delving into Greg’s website, youtube ,Instagram and Snapchat I began appreciating Greg’s artistry and I knew I had to know more about this artist who grew up and still lives a few miles away.  Greg is a very talented and fascinating artist who also has a business that consists of a clothing line, art supplies, iphone and ipad and macbook cases, and has a movie that is touring the film festivals as we speak.  During my Q& A I learned about his upcoming solo exhibition of new works ‘Beyond Shadows‘ at the “Merry Karnowsky Gallery” in Los Angeles  –  May 21st to June 18th.  Here is more about what I discovered during my Q & A with “Craola” and if you want t0 see my favorites go below to GG Picks.

Q

What did your parents do for a living and were they artistic in any way?

A

My father designed antenna systems for satellites for TRW and Northrop and the Aerospace industry. He has a very technical mind and also is a carpenter in his spare time and in retirement. He built my first panels and has done so for the past 22 years. My mom was a stay at home mom with some medical problems that didn’t allow her to work much, but she was always there for my sister and I and is very creative and above that, she’s extremely supportive, which was helpful in those early years especially.

Q

What elementary, middle and high school did you go to?

A

I went to Seaside elementary, then in sixth and seventh grade I split off to a private/home school type situation through our church at the time (Palos Verdes Community Church). It was at this small school of 10 students that I got all my grades up. I was below in all my subjects before that, especially math and when the school closed down, I reentered public school in eighth grade and all was in advanced placement programs in all my courses because of the great education I received at the private school. After that I went to South High School where I graduated in 1993.

Q
I read that you were always doodling in class, did any of the teachers try to discourage it or were they encouraging?

A

Funny you ask. I was always drawing. From pre-school on, it was my number one go to past time. In elementary school, I had drawn the covers to the talent show programs. My friends and I would sell drawings for a nickel and a dime at recess and it was always fun coming up with new characters. At the private school I had a sit down with my parents and the principal about “the violence” in my drawings I was doing. My parents told me not to listen to them and just keep the ninjas and superhero drawings at home. I was trying to emulate the skateboard graphics and comic books I liked. Some people are way too sensitive. The worst however was in ninth grade art class at South High, my teacher Mr. Pickard told me I would never be an artist because of the kinds of things I was drawing. It was tough hearing that.

 

“I never expected to be an artist for a living, I was always going to be a veterinarian, but drawing was just something I did, and to hear my teacher dump on it was pretty rough.”

 

He just didn’t like the content. I stopped taking art classes and just kept my work to myself for the next few years. It became a type of therapy during those real hard awkward years of high school. I didn’t share my work with many people.  It was in the summer of my junior year, 1992, that a couple skaters in my social studies class saw some of my drawings and suggested that I check out the book “Subway Art” because it was similar to what I was doing. The book changed my life and that summer I raided my dad’s garage looking for spray paint and began what has now been a 23 year journey into doing graffiti. The next year I picked up the name Craola and it was set.

Q

Growing up in Torrance did you get any inspiration locally and if so where and what?  Or did you go out of the area?

A

The only place I got inspiration from in Torrance was from the local skaters that I hung out with and from the punk rock music scene. Board graphics and band T-shirts and fliers were what interested me as well as the graffiti in the 110 freeway and surrounding areas. Hanging out in Old Torrance and Lomita and San Pedro you’d see a lot writing styles on the walls and I always gravitated to it. I was when I was a junior in college at El Camino that I latched onto some really great artists, mainly Tron, Brad Hess, Mayhem, and my childhood friend Kazuko. Doing graffiti opened up doors and introduced me to others with similar interests. It was a melting pot of people from all different cultures coming together with one common goal. It was also in Torrance that I first met Circus from CBS, which is the crew I would eventually become come involved with. In fact, Circus, Casl, Plek and Natoe were all influences on me down here in the South Bay, Harbor Area, and South L.A. That being said, bookstores, record shops, skateboard shops and libraries were the only places in Torrance to get influenced by art.

Q

When you were a graffiti artist, which areas were the most accessible and did you ever get arrested?

A

Definitely the east part of town, the sewer/river wash drainage tunnels, behind warehouses, the train tracks off of Prairie, hidden spots that we called “yards”, storage tanks and the 110 freeway were popular and accessible. We had a lot of fun on the 100 freeway oil drums for a minute three especially. I was never arrested. Chased too many times to count. Roughed up by the police and let go once, and curbed numerous times and let go. I was always trying to paint something that looked cool, not just get my name up, so the times I got let go, it was because they recognized that and saw that it wasn’t hurting the area I was in.

Q

As a child or even now do you have a favorite show, movie, book or author, music/ band/genre that you found or find inspirational?

A

Too many to count, but authors, Richard Adams, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Alexandre Dumas, Norton Juster, Roald Dahl, I found lots of inspiration in the Bible, Lord Of The Flies had a huge impact on me as well as Alice Through The Looking Glass. I read lots of animal books as I was going to be a veterinarian so James Herriot was a favorite author as well. Movies like “Star Wars”, “The Secret of NIMH“, “Watership Down“, “The Phantom Tollbooth“, and many animated films really impacted me as a kid. There are too many bands, I always said “Descendants”, and “Circle Jerks” but that was when I was older in my teens. I actually got my first art job from Earl Liberty (we know him as Mark Vidal) the Bass player of the “Circle Jerks” who was a family friend. I did a lot of album covers and merch for local bands/friends like “Deviates” and “1208” and “Western Waste”.  But my music tastes are all over the place. I really like “The Dead Ships” right now as well as “Joyce Manor” who are also from Torrance. But many days I am sitting here listening to Burl Ives and Cliff Edwards.

Q

I love the colors and mood of your paintings, they are warm, which is different than graffiti colors – how did that begin?

A

My fine art work differs greatly from my street work. I grew up inspired by the old masters and renaissance art that I would see in the museums my parents would take me to. I didn’t enjoy sports that much and would much prefer a museum to a bleacher any day. We also had Salvador Dali and Magritte coffee table books at the house, which greatly excited my senses. So a lot of the work I gravitated to and that informed me were these lush landscapes and colorful and deeply rendered scenes. It’s funny how graffiti split my brain in two. I enjoy each art form separately these days.

Q

Did you start your fashion line because you used to work for fashion companies?  Can you share the company names you worked for?

A

I’ve designed on a freelance level for many companies, Vans, Grn Apple Tree, tons of bands, Pacific Sunwear, brands no one has ever heard of and out of college I had an in-house illustrator job at the horrid JNCO jeans, which gratefully led me to people who took me to work in the video game industry which was awesome. I’ve been putting out clothes in one form or another since I was about 18 so when we do the “Imscared” or “Simkins” items, we treat it like band merch. A couple years back I had the pleasure of collaborating which the talented Korean fashion designer, Juun J., on some jackets and other pieces. That was very fulfilling to see my work on the Runways at fashion week. It is exciting that the company we work with Nuvango  has created a pathway to make some cool garments such as the leggings, dresses and skirts we have just started offering. I have always wanted to do more than just T-shirts, so am happy with this arrangement.

Q

Have you traveled to other cities and visited areas with graffiti or street art that you have admired?

A

Doing art I have been able to travel to a couple parts of the world. Main highlight as far as distance goes was getting to go to XSTATIC graffiti Jam in Split Croatia back in 2007 with some of the greatest graffiti artists in the world. It was a real eye opener. Talk about a melting pot. I’ve painted walls for Art Basel Miami a couple of times as well which is fun. My gallery shows have taken me to New York many times, Montreal, San Francisco, Philadelphia with successful sold out exhibits. I unfortunately haven’t been able to go with my paintings that have exhibited in Europe though. Most of the time my pieces get to do all the traveling and I stay home. In 2007 we had our first child and now with two boys I choose to keep the traveling to a minimum, at least for the time being.

Q

Who was your favorite graffiti artists and where were they from and why did you appreciate them?

A

My favorite graffiti artist of all time is Seen from New York. He was the first artist I latched onto when I picked up Subway Art when I was 17. I am honored to call him friend these days. The guy is an inspiration.

Q

When will the movie come out?

A

“I’m Scared” the movie is our stop motion animated short and is entered into many film festivals right now. Once it has down it’s run, it will be released with the book that goes along with it as a digital download.

Q

Where and when is your next show?

A

My next exhibit will be at “Merry Karnowsky Gallery” (now known as KP​ ​Projects) in Los Angeles on May 21st to June 18th.

Q

Do you have any new plans you can share that you are working on?

A

There is some very cool stuff in the works that I wish I could share, but unfortunately cannot.

"Messenger" 48" x 84" Acrylic on canvas wrapped panel Greg "CRAOLA" Simkins, 2014

“Messenger”
48″ x 84″
Acrylic on canvas wrapped panel
Greg “CRAOLA” Simkins, 2014

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Comments (2)

  • Eloise

    When I got that Civil War Cap minimate, I immediately wanted to make a whole “90s Avengers” set with the leather jatskce…..then I remembered that none of them had been released as minimates. Where’s my Black Knight minimate that I can put this jacket on?

  • Hello! Cool post, amazing!!!