Greg ‘Craola’ Simkins “The Escape Artist” at KP Projects

Greg ‘Craola’ Simkins: The Escape Artist at KP Projects. Photo credit: Genie Davis.

The Escape Artist: An Art Adventure at KP Projects

Greg ‘Craola’ Simkins
Through June 16


By Genie Davis

Vivid, surreal, and yet entirely realistic, brilliantly colored, and filled with a sense of wonder, The Escape Artist, a collection of works by Greg “Craola” Simkins now at KP Projects is a riveting look at an alternative world.

Running through June 16th, the exhibition is artistically perfect; works are detailed, almost hyper-realistic. Meticulous brush strokes and beautifully crafted images create a fully-realized yet mysterious universe. Colors are heightened, vibrant; and Simkins has ultimately created fully realized, yet mysterious, inwardly glowing works. Feathered and finned, swimming and winged, his creatures seem to be shaped from fairy-tales, offering a wild and wonderful take on an animal kingdom that’s grand and strange. Each feather, each fin, each jeweled eye is perfect and real and at the same time, unknown. These are flights of fancy made concrete, as magical as they are alive.

Simkins says of his paintings that they are memories come to life and as such they allow him to escape into ‘another world’. “I truly do experience this escape each time I paint,” he relates.

Featuring fish and birds, mice, snakes, and hybrid creatures that mix objects with animals, Simkins has created a beautiful, delightful, but strange Noah’s Ark, filled with visionary colors, and visual stories that defy easy explanation. His palette is rich and varied; the titular piece, for example, “The Escape Artist,” features a boat of unusual sea creatures off on a journey. The glowing blue eye of a rubbery red octopus informs the piece; we are almost seeing through its gaze, and we can almost feel its slippery skin and inhale the brine of the sea.

It is that visceral quality that is most compelling: viewers get the sensation that they can almost stroke the soft feathers of birds, touch a sleek beak or talon. Birds are a large part of the exhibition as subjects, with the idea of taking flight to explore Simkins’ alternative universe infusing the show. Simkins doesn’t just show viewers his worlds, he invites them inside, lifts them into the tapestry, the story, of his work. Whether it’s a cluster of orange billed toucans comingling with dancing butterflies and ladybugs, or the glowing, moist aquamarine orb of a blue bird’s eye in “Chief Roller,” or the emerald wings of another bird rocking on a small boat suspended on a teacup, it’s the richness of his detail and the complexity of each work that astonishes.

“The Sweetheart Tree,” partially submerged underwater where tentacles writhe, fish swim and objects drift; above the sea, a heart is carved on a tree trunk, a small animal figure wears the mask of an owl, and another creature’s hands hold a sign pointing in both directions to “escape.” In “Sentry,” the detail is more personal. The fine features of a bright blue bird, the cracked wear on his beak, the rich gold surrounding his eye, are coupled with a sense of hope, weariness, and glory. That a lot emanates from Simkins’ work may go without saying: “The Clown’s Escape” gives viewers a beautifully realized clown fish, about to take off through a swirling white cloud of seafoam; he appears ready to fly – small birds circle in the sky behind him, and he’s perched on a deep green pedestal of some sort. In this work alone we get a dream-world, an escape, an alternative reality (fish can fly), and a deeply realistic fish. The artist’s series of “Egg” paintings, acrylic on panel, offer deeply dimensional shapes that are only cursorily egg-like; they remind one of vases or sarcophagi, but they also seem as if something – some new world perhaps – is ready to pop out from these vessels.

Whether depicting the soft intelligent eyes of a deer in the charcoal on paper work “The Young Mayor,” or giving us ruby throated birds breaking free of one of those egg shapes with a laughing frog dancing in delight in “Then There Were Three,” Simkins delivers a dazzling take on natural life. Less natural but nonetheless compelling are images in the line of “Go Get the Ghosts.” Here, using a gold and black muted palette, the artist gives us an underworld vision that seems to riff on Alice in Wonderland, with a playing card rabbit carrying an ace of clubs spear, while ghostly rabbit forms drift in the background like jellyfish.

The Southern California-born and raised artist has long been interested in the idea of animals interacting, and was inspired – and it shows – by influences from Disney animation to a family trip to Hawaii. At KP Projects he displays a wild and wondrous world using an alchemist’s rainbow of color and creatures, work that appears almost conjured as much as painted and created.

While the robust and vivid colors of his acrylic on panel and acrylic on canvas work is compelling, his graphite on paper drawings and charcoal studies are also perfectly realized and enchanting. A quiet favorite, the whimsical “The Ghost of Sleepy Cat” captures both the charm and eccentricity of this fuzzy black feline.

Get ready for a visit to a unique world – with Simkins as guide, you’ll want to get lost in it.

KP Projects, La Brea
170 S. La Brea Avenue Los Angeles CA 90036
Hours: Tues – Sat, 12pm till 6pm


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