The first time I saw the paintings of Greg “Craola” Simkins‘ was 2009 in San Francisco. Each image is so rich that I still recall the details. As a writer, I enjoy stories, and more often than not, I prefer them with words. Which is to say: I’m not the kind of guy who can find deep plot structure in Still Life of Fruit Bowl. Simkins’ paintings, on the other hand, spin deluxe, winding, epic tales of underwater realms and otherworldly places in beautiful canvases (using neither words nor fruit).
For the release of the newest Vannen Artist Watch, David Stowe asked me to interview Simkins. In part one of the interview, we chat about watch design, graffiti and fine art, fun, suicide and sarcasm, roughly in that order. Part two begins below.
JB: Hi again Greg! I was wondering if you’ve ever heard from the owners of Disney or Winnie the Pooh or Peanuts about any of their characters who have shown up in your paintings?
GS: I’ve done projects with Disney, and they have never said anything. I do have a story about a punk show flier I did in the mid 90s, but I’ll tell you that over coffee sometime… I was able to do a project with Disney where a few artists were chosen to redo Mickey in our own styles. They still sell the hats and shirts of the drawing I did at D-Street at Disneyland. I get a kick out of seeing my name on a Mickey Mouse shirt.
JB: You recently did a set of (sold out!) brushes for Trekell. How did that come about and can you comment on the differences between making fine art versus an art product?
GS: We have developed a good relationship with Trekell over the years, and I am one of their sponsored artists. When they approached me to do the set, it was a no brainer for me. I love their product and was stoked to share the tools I use when detailing my paintings. Now the differences in creating a painting verse a product: They are worlds that barely connect. My head lives a lot more freely in my paintings. I get in this zone when I paint and a lot of what you see is freestyled in there after the base sketch is down. I don’t think anything I have ever worked on has brought me the satisfaction of working on these paintings. Creating an art product is more of a mechanical function where I take the content that I already created in my fine art and make it fit the project at hand. The part I like about it is that it is based on the work made during that creative drive.
JB: You’ve made collectible toys with STRANGEco, Upper Playground and Munky King. What kinds of things do you collect, and will we see you at SDCC later this month?
GS: I enjoy collecting books, animal books mainly, and I have a small collection of butterflies and beetles. I don’t really collect a lot though and would prefer to collect more tattoos. I enjoy those the most. They are memories I always have with me. I prefer creating things. Collecting a good supply of art tools and paints is fun though, as long as I am able to use them. I wish I could collect time, then I would be able to make more stuff. I do have some stuff at SDCC this year, mainly with The Comedy Central South project I participated in, but unfortunately I won’t be there this year. Calendar conflicts and whatnot. [Ed note: Simkins' shop currently has a special toy gift package including all four of the STRANGEco figures above for only $50. FYI.]
JB: Will you pursue additional projects in 3D (like toys or sculptures)?
GS: I plan on it. I am really curious about exploring sculpture and bronzes. If it were at all possible, it would be awesome to design amusement park ride carriages and animals as large art pieces.
JB: Merry-go-round animals would be great! Sometimes, cool-looking chairs show up in your paintings. Have you ever thought about designing furniture?
GS: That would be awesome, but timing needs to be right. I have talked to a furniture designer once and would still like to pursue something with him.
JB: What music/podcasts do you listen to while you’re working?
GS: It is all over the map. Music: The Appleseed Cast, The Smiths, Tribe Called Quest, Underoath, The Descendents, Jawbreaker, Morning Benders, Mozart, Jimmy Durante, Wild Nothing, Against Me and so on, to podcasts: apologetics stuff: Greg Koukl, William Lane Craig, J Warner Wallace, Hugh Ross, to comedy podcasts like “The Nerdist”, “How Did this Get Made”, “Comedy Bang Bang”, “Mike and Tom eat Snacks”, to story driven stuff like “The Moth” and “This American Life”. I’ll have nature movies and animal shows like Planet Earth playing on loop on Netflix all day as well.
JB: Two of your three favorite childhood books (Watership Down & The Phantom Tollbooth) are also mine. What’s on your bookshelf these days?
GS: Surprisingly Phantom Toolbooth is out of its shelf and back on the nightstand. I am reading it to my son every night, and it is awesome seeing it through his eyes. I love that book. We are watching the movie in sections on youtube a well. I am also reading William Lane Craig’s book On Guard. Been really interested in our existence here, and I find his work on cosmology fascinating.
JB: Give us your best example from the #manvswild archive.
GS: Alright, Man vs. Mild is simply a sad reality that most guys in this world will never be as much of a man as Bear Grylls. I don’t care if his show is “staged;” lets see you jump out of a helicopter, land in a swamp, bite the head off of a frog and eat it. #ManVsMild are just observations and aren’t always based on me, but the voices I give to men I see that look miserable. So here goes, “No honey, I would love to hold your purse while you try on underwear. I’ll just wait out here while these woman wonder what this pervert with a purse is doing in the lingerie store”, or “please, that parking space is way more suited for your car, it’s all yours I’ll go wait another 20 minutes over there in that aisle. Or simply: “This pillow is just way too lumpy”.
JB: Is your new watch, Always Look Down, the ultimate watch for people who listen to Slowdive and Jesus & Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine? You know, because they’re “shoegazers”?
JB: Thanks Greg! Greg “Craola” Simkins’ daydream-portal-in-a-watch will be available tomorrow, July 13th, from vannenwatches.com and stores that sell cool stuff. If you missed Part One of my interview with Greg, click here.