I had to pass up the opening night because of the insane line out the door. Normally, I would have waited but, gallery hopping with friends, who are not as art obsessed as you are, can be problematic. So, I returned later during the week. The first thing that struck me was how nice it was to savor the work in quiet. Greg Craola Simkins' work is loud by nature and deserves peaceful contemplation to really process. With a name like 'Craola,' vibrant colors instantly spring to mind. I recall those huge Crayola coloring boxes that as a kid was such a prized possession. It had every color of the rainbow, and yet it was the primary colors that got used most. The same is the case with the colors employed in Craola's work.
I'm not usually a fan of wildlife art, but in this context, the animal references stand out and take on a very fresh context. It is like a cross breeding of species that, if suggested in a pitch session, would be laughed at. But, when assembled by the artist, meld together quite organically. The unlikely element combinations do have certain repeated themes such as aquatic life, Disney characters, insects, royal crest-type imagery and of course, crayons, for good measure.
There is a wonderful fluidity to the image mash-ups that are very enjoyable to scan over and over. The artist has made sense of a daunting hodgepodge of components. It is organized chaos that is at times violent and other times darkly magical.
The transformations and mutations of his subjects seem to be happily blending. There is no fight, it is an evolution that appears to be just a natural adaptation of a species for the sake of survival. It's not only a reinvention of the creatures, but also of the artistic boundaries being pushed in unexpected and inventive ways.
The name-sake of the show, "Stop Haunting Me," is an entangled cluster fuck of animals that you'd never see hanging out in nature.
"Prey" has a similarly assembled entanglement, but it shows a hungry wolf pack positioned in the background with the focus on a defiantly brave little lamb standing his ground in the foreground.
Another piece that follows this melding is entitled "Apex Predator" and takes us under the ocean surface where various creatures of the deep fight it out.
Craola spells out his name in a format that reminds me of kid's alphabet cards. In fact, a series of alphabet letters in the artist signature style would be a fun way for art enthusiast parents to teach their kids the ABC's. A lot of his work would translate very well into fun merchandise for kids, as well as adults- From flashcard games, to puzzles, to t-shirts, to greeting cards, etc. Hopefully sometime soon he will offer more than prints for fans pinching their pennies.
Show runs until May 4th at Merry Karnowsky Gallery.
Words by Rick Galiher