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Chopping Block: Greg "Craola" Simkins

For most of us, childhood ends where peach fuzz sprouts into the first few chin-hairs or when "nap time" suddenly becomes a fond yet oh so distant memory. For Greg "Craola Simkins, the child inside thrives as a driving force behind his  whimsical artwork. Using fable-like characters and intense detail, the renowned artist has set a large impression on the different areas of today's art scene. With over 10 years of experience in street art, Simkins has made the rare, seamless transition into the world of fine art. Drawing from his experiences as a graffiti artist, the surrealist creates pieces all of which tell a unique story. This week, we got the chance to have him talk a bit about his.
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POW: One thing that stands out prominently about your work is the intensely precise formation of detail.  This detail doesn't seem to change despite the canvas, be it a large graffiti wall or a small painting.  How do different canvases effect you as a painter?  Is it harder to paint a large graffiti wall vs a small painting?

SIMKINS: I've actually always taken a different approach with my walls versus my canvases. I tend to compartmentalize everything I do. I enjoy doing my graffiti lettering on walls the most and find it freeing and much more of a physical act then something I would do on a canvas. There is always a time element that is specific to both. With a wall, I like to work faster because everything is working against you, daylight, people around, drive time, deadlines at home. That's why i almost always keep my wall stuff to my roots which is graffiti, even if I'm not painting freeways and underpasses anymore, there is that engrained feeling of being against the clock. Plus I just like doing letters a lot, there are a lot of abstract elements to it. Now on my canvas work, its a whole different story. I have a different time allotment and can allow myself to explore those weird places in my imagination more freely. I can get rid of the outside distractions and basically tell a story with my paint brushes. I definitely do something different with each tool I use. There is a specific thing I lean towards with charcoals as opposed to pencils as opposed to pen and ink, computers, spray paints and acrylics, etc... Every once in a while they cross over, but I enjoy the difference each has to offer.

phoca_thumb_l_goodknightGood Night by Greg Craola Simkins

POW:Your pieces have a very whimsical fairytale-like air to them. I read that sometimes while painting, you become so captivated with thoughts, you put down your paint brush and pick up a pen to write down the story behind characters or scenes in your painting.  Is this true?  If so, what do you do with the stories connected to different pieces?

SIMKINS:I definitely do. Sometimes the story of what I am painting reveals itself through through a spontaneous character added to the scene. Sometimes it makes itself apparent only once the image is fully rendered, and I can see the attitude in the eyes. I will write down the things that pop in my head as I paint. Lately I've been getting up early and taking walks down by the beach. There is a certain area which has become the muse for the world I paint and I have chosen the mornings to be my writing time. This last summer I have written more than anything previously and it hasn't even been in accordance with any specific paintings. It's all based off my White Knight Character Ralf and his adventures in "The Outside", but there are a lot of things to it that I would never be able to paint. I feel like I am writing this stuff just to make sense of why I paint and to open new doors in that world. I am preparing for my next sol show  right now and am finessing myself fitting new characters into my pieces that I was writing about. I'll go back to my notes and read through and remember a train of thought and it sparks some new imagery and ties together old images from previous works so as to unite years of work into a whole. I love bringing back old characters like the Strawberry Octopus and my Blue Jays and giving them a purpose, something more than just being and interesting image. I have only shared bits and pieces of these stories with a few people. I find that it feels really personal for some reason and prefer to keep them to myself. I'm not an easy share when it comes to explaining them as I feel it mint take away from the viewer their initial connection to the work. Perhaps somewhere down the line after tremendous amounts of editing, I'll be able to fully share this stuff, but for now, to keep it simple, the canvas works I do are glimpses and snapshots in the world "The Outside", some through the eyes of Ralf (the white Knight) and others through the eyes of the birds and inhabitants of that world.

maryannette_POW_10x10Mary Becoming Annette by Greg "Craola" Simkins

POW:  Our next print release with you features a print titled, "Mary Becoming Annette", does there happen to be a story behind this piece?

SIMKINS: She fits in the story well and is connected to a large painting which depicts her in a much different state. I won't go into

it all but this is before she turns herself into the with puppet queen. That's all I can tell you. In the background of the piece "The Pearl Thief" also makes an appearance.

PicotheWhalePico the Whale by Greg Craola Simkins

POW: Speaking of stories, I read about a short film you have in the works called "I'm Scared", can you tell us more about it and when it will be available?

SIMKINS: This is an exciting project that wouldn't have come together with out he insistence and skills of my friends Dan Levy, Pete Levin, and Robyn Yannoukos. It is based off of a bedtime story called "I'm Scared..." whichI had been telling my oldest son for the last couple of Years. It was a fun way of exploring all the things that go bump in the night in a funny way so as not to be scared. With the addition of our second son, the idea of having bad advice from big brothers to little brothers about all the things he should be scared of came into the picture and we decided to have it told through the young version of my character Ralf (The White Knight) when he was just a boy and the leader of "The Scared Scouts". Watching the project come together and the amazing team of artists that Dan, Pete, and Robyn assembled has been amazing. These people are at the forefront of stop motion animation and I am amazed at what they can do. I am not sure on the exact release, it is a short and will be released with a book positioned a a children's book/concept art book, so it may live online with a release party. All the details still need ironing out, but I can tell you that they are wrapping up scenes as we speak and this thing is getting close. Feels like only yesterday that we did the Kickstarter, but in fact it has been a long process and many hard hours put in by a dedicated team who I have nothing but respect and gratitude for.

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POW: I don't know if an interview is complete without asking at least one question about your graffiti days.  What I find the most ironic about wall murals today is the enthusiasm behind them compared the the enthusiasm against them just 10-20 years ago.  They seem about equal, almost a complete flip.  Instead of running from the police, facing fines and jail time, now you are paid thousands of dollars for the same act of art expression.  What has been your personal experience and feelings in regards to graffiti art then and now?

SIMKINS: I will always love graffiti. Looking through "Subway Art" when I was 17 (yes I got a late start) turned my art in a whole new direction. It energized that creative part in me to want to learn and grow as an artist. It still does. And sure occasionally I'll do a gig where I get paid to paint live. But that's not all the time. And yes , I have stopped painting illegal walls since starting a family. I have watched how it has turned out with friends and feel I put in my street work and dues in those early years. But. I still maintain the same mindset and approach to painting walls now, that I did back then. I enjoy painting with my crew members from CBS, WAI and Bashers, as well as writers from other crews. I prefer we get some random permission wall or a wall in a cutty spot that won't bother anyone, and just rock burners and have a good time. It is way harder to get the time to go paint walls these days, but it something that I feel I will never let go of, like it will always be a part of me. I am alway drawing letter schemes and it somehow feeds my imagination to with over to "The Outside" as a switch. One turns on the other turns off and vice versa. They do meet occasionally, and I have yet to fully realize where that will go, but I have time to find out.

GOBBLERLORESThe Gobbler by Greg Craola Simkins

POW: We are excited to have you be apart of the our booth at the Air+Style event this weekend.  Are there any hints about what we may see on your 20 foot x 8 foot wall mural?

SIMKINS: Thanks for inviting me. I have been having fun playing with my name in the color scheme associated with it. The last three walls I painted were takes off of this. I like to incorporate my version of Oswald the Lucky rabbit into my walls sometimes and he might make an appearance.

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Thank you Greg for taking the time to let us into your world and give us a glimpse into the mystery behind your pieces.

For more information on Greg "Craola" Simkins, please visit: www.imscared.com