Photos by Asia Morris.
Long Beach now has another gem of a mural to boast about, thanks to Lola’s Mexican Cuisine’s Luis Navarro, Long Beach arts aficionado Artie Ray Luna and revered street and studio artist Greg “Craola” Simkins.
Unveiled last week in Lola’s back patio to many a margarita-drinking arts appreciator, not a poor decision was made as the local merry-makers showed their love for a mural well done. Navarro told the Long Beach Post how the idea was first inspired about a year ago as the inaugural POW! WOW! Long Beach was taking place.
“We were just messing around and we were shooting pool at Joe Jost’s and started talking about the idea, ‘Oh, how cool would this be? How awesome would this be,’” said Navarro. “We ran into Artie up in Bixby Knolls as he was looking over the big [mural] that was done at the Expo [Art Center]."
Ideas and connections collided to produce a successful end result, as they tend to within Long Beach's creative community.
After much deliberation and discussion, "Finally Artie says Craola says he’s down to do it[...] He’s local, he’s dope, so we’re like yeah, let’s do Craola and we booked him,” Navarro said.
Navarro suggested that Simkins paint his Oswald character, seemingly based on Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a character created by Walt Disney in 1927 to have a “peppy, alert, saucy and venturesome” personality. Now Simkins’ Oswald smiles down at the patrons of Lola’s back patio, sporting traditional Day of the Dead face paint you’d expect to find on a sugar skull.
“He was thinking he was just going to come in and do a piece that we were going to ask him to do,” Navarro continued. “Like, ‘Here’s the Lola’s logo, can you put it on our wall?’ I [told him], ‘I want you to do whatever you want to do.’ Literally I told him, ‘I want the wall to have soul.’
This isn’t the first time the revered artist, known for his wired imagination and precise execution, whether on canvas or on a wall outside, has painted the saucy rabbit. Just off of Pine Avenue in downtown between 6th and 7th Streets is an empty dirt lot, once used for the Arts Council for Long Beach’s A Lot initiative, unassuming aside from a striking mural on the wall to the left, an explosion of color and movement painted just a couple of years ago.
“For that wall I did a big Craola piece [where] there’s a big Oswald the Lucky Rabbit on that, going all the way to the roof, ears extending off,” Simkins voiced during the Craola X Lolas #360video. [...]and outside of the wall I painted a little Oswald pointing to the wall from the street, so the fact that I’m able to bring and keep Oswald in Long Beach, it just feels like that’s my Long Beach character now.”
Considering the Torrance native and Cal State Long Beach grad got his start in 1992 painting graffiti letters (see the lettering next to Oswald's head) on and around the freeway in the San Pedro and South Bay areas, it’s more than fitting that Oswald, the character who came before Disney’s Mickey Mouse, embodies Simkins’ creative spirit and childlike abandon, as do the many fantastical creatures of his current works.
Now one of Simkins’ characters, Stabby, can be seen from Cherry Avenue south of 4th Street, just a few steps past Salud Juice if you’re headed toward the beach. If you happen to look upward and catch a glance of the sharp top of his pointed, switch-blade head, Stabby will happily guide your gaze toward the mural as he points downward at Lola’s patio.
“I like painting stuff on the street the most,” said Simkins. “The fact that [the mural] was outdoors at least, made me happy, and the fact that I got to paint the rooftop changed everything for me. [Luis] was like, ‘You wanna go on the roof?’ I said, ‘I would love to go on the roof,’ because you can see him from the street. Whenever I do these things I usually want to have a street spot.”
Lola's Mexican Cuisine is located at 2030 East 4th Street.