The Fantastic World of Greg Simkins
An interview with JUUN.J's latest collaborator

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"Imagine an above-water coral reef...there's fish interacting with butterflies, there's sharks flying around with birds!" says L.A. artist Greg Simkins, describing what the universe would look like if he were to design it. His voice is filled with the same sense of wonder that pervades his art. Known for paintings that depict the fantastical (octopi morphing into strawberries, dinosaurs turning into kings, elephants with wings), Greg "Craola" Simkins has been active since the early 90s, when he earned his nickname tagging the streets of Torrance, California. Simkins lent his imaginative artwork to Korean designer Juun J, who reinterpreted it as prints across his Fall collection. We sat down with Simkins to talk about what it was like collaborating with JUUN.J.

We read that when you were younger you wanted to be a veterinarian. What changed?

Oh man! In junior college, I was taking some art classes because I've always had this interest. Anyway, I found I could just draw animals - my love for animals transferred to the page. I had tried working as a dog walker, a kennel worker, a veterinarian's assistant, but my interest was much more aesthetically based. Being an artist was just a better outlet for me. It just made sense.

How did the collaboration with JUUN.J come about?

Gosh, they just emailed us out of the blue so I thought, "Why not?" High fashion is something really different for me. It's cool to see my work in this new atmosphere.

What piqued your interest about his work?

The materials he uses are so interesting. His pieces also have this really unique aesthetic! Some are almost like throwbacks - those bomber jackets, for example - but with this new imagery. It gives me a feeling of nostalgia, but the graphics are so futuristic.

We recognized a few of the prints as pre-existing pieces of yours. How did you choose which pieces to include, and did you change them in any way for the collaboration? 

Nope! We offered up some images, they told us what they liked, and we went from there. I've seen my work treated wrong in the past, but he did a great job manipulating the prints to fit the shirts.

We love the fusion of the two different kinds of "street" in this collaboration - the street art style of your work vs. the streetwear that Juun.J is famous for. What can you tell us about that interaction?

You know, I was really surprised when I started getting hit up to do these kinds of clothing collaborations. Back when I first started in the early 90s, you'd get ridiculed, or looked down upon for working with mainstream fashion companies. But now, it's like...chic! It's a thing. It's so interesting to see how times have changed!

What was it like seeing your designs on the runway?

That was a trip! The first time I saw the photos from the show, I was like, "Woah!" The prints look amazing. I started getting emails and texts from my friends calling me Mr. High-Fashion and all that [laughs] I was stoked. I had never seen my stuff presented like that.

What has this experience with fashion taught you?

It's interesting. It's been an exercise in art - fashion is just wearable art. I was concerned that the shirts might take away from the "art" of my pieces but he did such a wonderful job at finding that balance. I have a lot of respect for that.

Let's talk a bit about the "fantastical" elements that are so prevalent in your work. You draw inspiration from the universes created by authors like CS Lewis and Richard Adams - what would a Greg Simkins universe look like?

Oh man, it would be so weird! It would look like these paintings, for sure! Imagine an above-water coral reef. There's fish interacting with butterflies, there's sharks flying around with birds! Creatures that wouldn't normally get the opportunity to meet, collide in this world it's that interaction of environments and climates that come together and aren't foreign to each other.

If you were to illustrate your personality as one of your fantastical creatures, what would it look like?

I have this character that I call The White Knight. He's a shape shifter. He can change into different creatures and goes on adventures, and he sees things that others don't. He sees all this crazy stuff in that fantastic world. He's the hero on the other side of the rabbit hole.

Thanks for speaking with us, Greg!