Mike Giant is a wonderful artist
Acclaimed worldwide for his prolific work in graffiti, illustration, design and tattoo, Mike Giant is one of the most complete artists of his generation.
After four years studying architecture, Mike Giant started drawing graphics for Think Skateboard in San Francisco, where he spent ten years securing his place in the world of art. It wasn’t until 1998 that he began his inking career, quickly spreading his unique and recognizable style through some of the most reputable shops in USA. Who said Mike “Giant”?
More about Mike.
YOU HAVE AN IMPRESSIVE BACKGROUND IN THE GRAPHIC DESIGN INDUSTRY, SO WHY DID YOU WAIT THAT LONG BEFORE STARTING YOUR TATTOO CAREER?
I was just waiting for the right teacher. I had seen the ugly side of tattooing early on, so I knew it would have to be just the right situation for me to get involved. I had been getting tattooed by Nalla in San Francisco in the mid 90s. He was working at Tattoo City then. We got to be friends, and then he bought East Side in NYC, and offered to teach me how to tattoo so I could go to NY and work for him there. At the time I was doing Photoshop and web work for an animation company in SF. I was looking for a new direction in my life, and it seemed like a reasonable next step.
HOW DOES THE PERMANENT ESSENCE OF TATTOO AFFECT YOUR APPROACH TO DRAWING, COMPARED TO ILLUSTRATION AND (EVEN MORE) GRAFFITI, WHICH ARE REALLY TRANSIENT BY NATURE?
I approach illustration and tattoo design from basically the same point. There are more limitations in skin, but the way I execute the idea to fruition feels the same. To me, the tattoo will last the life of the wearer, maybe 90 years? I’ve seen illustrations that are a few hundred years old. So what’s more “permanent” really? Graffiti is something I just do on the spot these days. I do it when it feels right. I don’t draw much graffiti at all anymore.
AS AN ILLUSTRATOR, YOU ARE FAMOUS FOR WORKING ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY IN BLACK AND WHITE, SO IS YOUR REALLY COLORFUL TATTOO STYLE A MATTER OF MEDIUM?
Yes, I’d be quite happy to only do black and grey tattoos. I’ve got nothing against color though. I have tons of color on my own body. But, I’m red and green color-blind, so I don’t see subtlety in tone and hue. Somehow that has worked to my advantage in the modern commercial art market. Tattoos need high contrast color schemes to hold up over time. Luckily, that works well with my simplistic sense of color.
AFTER MORE THAN TEN YEARS LIVING AROUND THE WORLD, YOU FINALLY CAME BACK TO YOUR NATIVE CITY ALBUQUERQUE WHERE YOU OPENED A TATTOO SHOP (STAY GOLD). WAS THIS NEW MEXICO ENVIRONMENT AN IMPORTANT PART OF YOUR GROWING IDENTITY AS AN ARTIST?
Well, since I’ve been back here for a few years, I can see just how much of my identity is from this place. I feel comfortable here.
I love the sky, the clean air, the seasons, the food, the women, and the cheap living. It’s a good life. It feels good to make art that pays homage to this wonderful place in the world. And at times, I still feel a real bond with the Bay Area. I spent 10 formative years there. It really set the stage for what’s happening right now. I also see my time in London and New York as really important times in developing my identity as an artist.
FOR A COUPLE OF YEARS, YOU DID ALL THE ARTWORK FOR A CLOTHING COMPANY CALLED REBEL8. DO YOU CONSIDER THIS WORK LIKE ANOTHER WAY TO GET YOUR ART ON PEOPLE’S BODIES?
I’ve been drawing graphics for t-shirts for many years. I love graphic t-shirts. Always have. A few years ago, I was approached by my friend Josh to start an exclusive label. I had been doing a lot of illustrations for various companies, and he thought I had enough of a fan base to go solo. So we got the ball rolling and it’s been great ever since. We’re growing fast, and having a lot of fun. We’ve got some ill shit lined up for 2007.
DID YOUR SUCCESS AS A WORLDWIDE COMMISSIONED ILLUSTRATOR CHANGE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH TATTOOING, AS YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO IT FOR ECONOMIC REASONS ANYMORE?
Yes, things have changed. I never thought I could earn more money doing freelance illustrations than tattooing, but that’s the current state. And frankly, I enjoy the time alone in my studio more than the time I spend at the shop now. It’s something I’ll continue to do for the rest of my life, but only on a select group of old friends, almost as a favor. I have a lot of love for tattooing. I respect it. It kicked my ass. I’m almost suited, and I still get excited to feel the sting. It’s just something I don’t need to do for a job anymore.