West Coast graffiti writer, illustrator, and artist, Greg Simkins-better known as Craola-unveiled a new collection of work at the Merry Karnowsky Gallery earlier this month. “Stop Haunting Me,” features surrealist paintings and sketches rich in symbolism and incredible detail. Craola transports his viewers to a world of flora, fauna and fantasy with vibrant colors. We caught up with the artist about the internal factors inspiring “Stop Haunting Me” and where the last 20 years of using the moniker ‘Craola’ has taken him. Take a look inside the head of Craola with some photos from opening night of his show.
First things first, what is the story behind the show’s title, “Stop Haunting Me”?
The title of the show comes from the first main painting for the show. In it we have a lion
being constricted by a Giraffaconda, as well as being haunted by other characters who
in his waking life he may have terrorized. He is in a position of regret and rethinking
his past, but perhaps it is already too late for him as the Giraffaconda’s body begins
to tighten. I often find myself shuttering with sudden thoughts from my past, someone
I may have hurt and embarrassing or stupid things I said or did. Things I thought I got
away with whisper in my ear to a point that I just need to turn the music up to drown it
out. This was the initial thought pattern going into the show, the piece “Prey” came soon
afterwards and has similar ideas. Plus the idea of being deceived, the scene popped
in my head many years ago from reading the 7th chapter of the book of Matthew, and I
couldn’t shake the image. I had been redrawing it for a year and a half and it finally just
gelled. The predator and prey paradigm being flipped is what was going on in my head
for these pieces.
Your process is heavily self-reflective, what was running through your mind for this collection of work?
This show was definitely fractured for me. A culmination of looking at “why these
images?” and looking back over the years. The realization that I wouldn’t have had the
drive to paint these images had I never started writing graffiti under the name Craola.
But firstly to address the “why these images?” It has become clear to me that I paint
fantasy worlds for one reason; I want the viewer to feel like they just stumbled upon
someone else’s dream. Things that shouldn’t make sense somehow mesh coherently,
the moods and objects of the strange interactions reflect the dreamers sub-conscience.
It is up to the viewer to just sit back and enjoy…or be disturbed.
You are known for including hidden symbols and letters in your art work, to a
point that most of your fans treat your pieces like a ‘Where’s Waldo,’ what should people look for in “Stop Haunting Me?”
Since this show came together on my 20th year anniversary of writing CRAOLA, I
hid my name through the pieces in various ways, but on pieces like “Prey” and “Stop
Haunting Me” I actually did series after series of loose hand style sketches to get the
flow of the compositions. I find this helps if I feel a block. I draw a small rectangle and
just compose CRAOLA tags in them until I start getting a feel for the composition.
So beneath all those wolf snakes buried really deep in the concept stage is a CRAOLA hand style.
This show serves not only as an exhibition of your new work but as a
retrospective of the last 20 years, looking back did you ever set out to be where you are today?
Well, I never in a million years thought I’d be showing in galleries. That was something
you see in movies and doesn’t really happen for schmucks like me. I figured I’d be
working as a designer or illustrator, painting my personal stuff on the side, but instead
the personal stuff took over. I feel blessed to be able to do this full time. It was Gallery
1988 and Upper Playground who had noticed my work and talking with them made me
believe I could actually be a full time painter. I have a lot of respect for Jensen Karp,
Katie Cromwell and Matt Revelli for what they kicked me in the ass to start doing. Its
been many years now of great relationships with galleries and painters and I’m very
excited to be showing with Merry Karnowsky now, who was someone I had always
admired in the art scene and whose gallery I had visited quite often, always wondering
what if. It trips me out to see my name on the window outside the gallery and working
with her and the crew here has been awesome and inspiring. So that is the cliff notes
version tons left out, but I probably have bored most who are reading this.
After 20 years, Craola is still attracting huge crowds of fans. On the night of his opening
people were lined up around the building (a line that remained even at the closing
hours of the gallery) anxiously waiting to catch a glimpse of his new work. With each
subsequent show, he continuously out does himself making one only imagine and
anticipate where the next 20 years will take him. If you didn’t make it down to the Merry
Karnowsky Gallery to catch a glimpse of Craola’s new work you still have time. “Stop
Haunting Me” will be on exhibit until May 4. The final day of the show will also have a book signing at the gallery for Craola’s latest book “The Outside” from 2pm-5pm.
Text: Keisha Raines / Photo: Birdman