Back in 2010, I had a chance to fulfill one of my long time dreams of being an artist. I had grown up, as many of us have, flipping through coffee table books, enjoying the artistry and the snapshots of nature and the worlds presented that I would probably never get to go to, but from a chair, I could simply dive in and let my imagination take me to all these places. This enjoyment of books later led to seeking out artist books, rare and hard to find edition comics, photo journals, scientific reference canons, cartoon reference guides, animal field guides, you name it. I could spend hours in libraries and book stores and never get bored, which always got me wondering , what if I could one day have my work displayed in one of these books for others to enjoy?
My good friend Brett Bryan at Presto Art helped make this dream a reality and in 2010, my first book Drawn From the Well was published.
It was an achievement that I was really proud of. Over 300 pages of drawings that we had cataloged over many years, and it was mine. It was heavy, smelled like printers ink, and each glossy page whispered back to me the memories of what was going on at the time of each drawing.
We were so excited about the release we even made a commercial for it with my friend and filmmaker Stephen Reedy from Zero Friends
The release took place in Atlanta for the Dragon Con crowd and we were excited with the response. It felt good to be able to hand a book to a family member or friend who asked what I had been up to. Occasionally I still flip through it if I feel in need of an idea to paint. It is one of those projects in my life that I will be able to pass along to my boys and show them what I was doing before they were born.
I hadn't realized the possibility of it not being around anymore.
The beginning of 2013 I received some bitter sweet news that copies of my book were no longer going to be available and that they had sold out. Part of me was excited, people apparently had enjoyed the book and passed the word along, but the biggest part of me felt emptiness. I thought the book would always be around. I thought I would be able to point interested people in its direction for years to come. What would I do now? In reality, it was sad news, and answering emails from people inquiring when more copies would be available, made me depressed. I enjoy sharing my art with people, that is one of the best parts of being an artist, and now that outlet was gone. Digital is one thing, but a book is a physical object, it has life, and it is in grave danger of going the way of the dinosaur.
In steps Brett Bryan again, "I'm ready to get back working on the painting book we had talked about"… This is the one. This is what we had talked about even before we released Drawn From The Well. A book of paintings showcasing the pieces that highlight the world I paint into each time I pick up a brush. First there was Narnia, Oz, Wonderland, Middle Earth, The Lands Beyond, Never Neverland, and The Forgotten planet, but to me these are just other names that can be encompassed by what I call The Outside.
It is the place our imagination is set free, where things that don't make sense here, live abundantly there. It is where our creative nature can grow, mature and spread its stories to anyone in eye-shot.
For a while I thought we might not do the project. It felt a bit daunting, editing through hundreds of paintings and trying to decide what goes in and what gets left out. But no, it was getting made, another book! That joy was back. I still can't believe it is going to be a reality.
Over the past few years, in anticipation and in hopes of the The Outside getting made. I created a handful of chosen pieces in collaboration with a couple choice friends to be previously unpublished works in the book. It was the most difficult thing for me to not show anybody these works for such a long time. I recently released prints of these pieces at my solo exhibition at Merry Karnowsky Gallery, Stop Haunting Me. We announced the book release that day and figured it would be the perfect place to unveil these pieces in anticipation of the book. But there was one piece that I have held on to showing until now.
"War and Peace":
As many of you know, I rarely do commission work and one of these rare occasions was for a situation I felt a real connection to. My good buddy Warren Brand approached me with an idea for a painting that would help him gain a bit of closure on a tragedy in his life. Here is an interview I conducted with Warren to get a feeling for what his thought process was we discussed his piece.
1. How did the ideas for this piece culminate?
I have been a CRAOLA fan since I was a young teen. Over the years, I have seen your work continue to grow and progress. One of my favorite characters is the Knight, a shape-shifting creature who appears often in your paintings. I was thrilled when I bought my first painting of yours back in 2007. The Pinocchio-inspired piece, entitled “Lil’ Wooden Head” is currently hanging in my living room. Shortly after buying the painting, I interviewed you about the piece using my camera phone. After that, I decided that I wanted to get a commission painting. So I put my name on the list and the waiting game began! I thought for a long time about what I wanted. I looked in some of my sketchbooks that you drew in. I knew I wanted to have a Knight in the piece, along with a Phoenix, which is one of my favorite mythological creatures.
2. Tell me about your dad and your relationship with him.
My dad was my mentor and best friend. He passed away in March, 2010. We spoke every day, hung out all the time, and talked about everything under the sun. He loved music and film. He was an avid collector as well. Along with many other things, he taught me a lot about the world of collectables. Together we collected things such as sports cards, comics, vintage movie posters, rare coins, and Americana. He lived his life to the fullest, and always had that same easy going smile and personality to go with it. He was an honest and smart businessman too, and became very successful in his life. He always told me to pursue my dreams and passions, and that is how I continue to live my life. I hope to one day have kids and treat them as well as he treated me.
3. Tell me about your sister's role in the piece.
My sister Toni and I have always been really close, and I wanted to do something to give her strength as she moved forward without her dad. My dad inspired her to become a scientist, and he would always cut out articles from his monthly science magazines to show her. I remember meeting with you and Jenn at your studio. We hung out for a while and I told you the entire story about my dad and sister, about how proud I am of her, and how she is going to be the first one in my family to earn a PHD. She has persevered and risen up through tragedy and pain to become something extraordinary.
I have done a lot of research about the Phoenix. The concept is that of a supernatural firebird that rises up from its own ashes and is reborn anew to live again. In China, the Fenghuang (鳳凰) is a mythical bird superficially similar to the Phoenix. Largely used to represent the empress and females, and as such as the counterpart to the Chinese Dragon, traditionally seen as masculine or imperial. The Phoenix is considered the greatest and the leader of birds. Typically, it is considered benevolent, but some tales suggest that humans are not always safe around it. That's my sister all right! There are many versions of the story of the Phoenix, but mainly the idea of rising up and becoming great is what I like the most. So in this painting, entitled “War and Peace” the Phoenix represents my little sister. There are many other things in this piece that identify with my dad and sis. She has a pet tree frog named Patrice who makes an appearance, along with books, test tubes, DNA strands, coins, palm trees, dice, etc. There is also a blue Sentry Knight adorned with musical symbols and a biohazard symbol tattooed on its face. Also making a cameo appearance is Lil' Wooden Head, along with candles, fruits, a red crayon, and several other creatures.
4. How did you first start getting into your art and what does it mean to you to be surrounded by this kind of imagery?
I grew up attending public school in Santa Monica. This diverse setting exposed me to many styles of art. Early on, I was very much into comic books and animation. I was also influenced by graffiti and street art culture. My favorite subjects were art, creative writing, cinema, and art history. I've always found it easier to associate an image with a specific event in history. Back then I wanted to become a writer and animator for CGI movies. In my early twenties I decided to begin seriously collecting art. I love to stare at paintings and come up with my own story lines and interpretations. I also love art that sends a message that can make me think critically and outside the box. Each piece in my collection has its own story and I can always remember where and when I acquired it. I continue to buy art regularly and go to as many museums and galleries as I can!
5. What are some ways you express yourself artistically?
Well, I love organizing and curating art shows. In 2010, I formed an organization called Branded Arts. Over the last 3 years, we have curated several art exhibitions along with over 30 mural projects. The most notable is our mural complex in Culver City. Going forward, I hope to commission artists to paint murals at local youth centers and schools. My aim is to send an inspirational message to young people with these projects, give them a creative outlet, and to always display positive imagery. With public school budget cutbacks affecting art programs around the country, I feel that it is up to independent organizations like Branded Arts to help facilitate and introduce art to children.
6. Have you seen the passing of your father maturing you in any new directions in life? I know it is a sensitive question, but I always love the way you speak of him and feel he has left a legacy in you, something I hope to do with my kids.
Wow, you saved the toughest question for last! I curated my first art exhibition in November 2009, a few months before my dad passed. He attended the exhibition and loved it! I’ll never forget how stoked he was. When I told him I wanted to begin a career in the art world, he was extremely supportive. My dad’s love for collecting has definitely resonated with me. I will always cherish the times we had and the items that we acquired together. I realize that not all children get to have a mentor like I did. Going forward I would like to continue working with organizations that promote and advocate mentoring initiatives worldwide. Every kid should get to have a friend like I did.
You're a good man Warren. I appreciate you and the talks we've had. They make me want to do my best to be a good father as well.
Looking back at the many years accounted for in The Outside, memories and faces and stories, such as Warrens and many others, filter through my head. There are underlying meanings to all the works, none are done to just be an interesting montage, the therapy of it all was enough for me to want to paint. Releasing my anxieties, dreams, aggression, and longings are what I invite you to enjoy as you flip through its pages.
It is with this that we are pleased to announce "The Outside". 280 pages of the paintings, from the mind of Greg"Craola" Simkins.
Book Release and Book Signing at Merry Karnowsky Gallery, Saturday May 4th, 2-5pm.
The Limited Gold Edition will be available exclusively through Merry Karnowsky Gallery and also at the signing on May 4th. It comes with some special exclusives that will be announced soon so stay tuned at IMSCARED.com and Instagram for those details on the Gold Package.
The Signing coincides with the closing reception of my show Stop Haunting Me, celebrating 20 Years of doing graffiti under the moniker CRAOLA
MERRY KARNOWSKY GALLERY 170 S. La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90036, Phone: 323.933.4408, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. NO RSVP REQUIRED!
For Information on The Outside and signings near you FOLLOW Greg on Instagram @craola