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Mike Giant Interview

Written by Trippe   
Wednesday, 31 December 2008 03:30
Tattoo/ graffiti/ fix gear/ clothing mogul legend. Mike answers your questions.

Mike Giant recently made his way back to San Francisco from New Mexico. This tattooing and graffiti legend recently gave up tattooing to focus on his illustration work and his clothing line Rebel8... We asked viewers to email in a few questions for this fix gear fixture and past Fecal Face regular to get the interview started. Thanks to everyone who submitted one.

Mike will be showing in April at Magda Danysz Gallery in Paris with Dalek. Be on the look out for that.

Have there been any experiences that stand out concerning your art career, especially the beginning stages, that made you go "Shit... That friggen sucked." or "Shit... That was awesome!"?

Well, on the sucky end, I've had more than my fair share of non-payment and loss of artworks. Most galleries are run by morons who don't give a fuck about selling your work. They're way more interested in throwing an arty party every month than developing your name and collector base.

On the awesome end, after working my way up through the hacks, now I work with great galleries that don't fuck around, and they do the job they're supposed to. I can trust them, and they can trust me. It's cool, but it's a recent phenomenon. I really don't care about the gallery world. I'm happy making t-shirts. I think I'll always respect the aesthetic opinions of my fellow street-level folks more than any highbrow art world schmucks.

Any advice for people considering relocating or having an extended stay in the Netherlands or another European country? -submitted by Adam LoRusso

It can be mad difficult to make the move, but still, I met lots of people that have been floating in Europe for decades. Don't trip. Remember that most nations in Europe are seeing way more immigration from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa; and those immigrants need to work, regardless of the legality. Since I was simply making drawings in Amsterdam and e-mailing the finished graphics to the REBEL8 office here in SF, then getting regular deposits to my account in the States, I was only bringing money into their economy, not taking it out. That kept me super low on their radar, but I knew they had a paper trail of withdrawals from ATMs in Amsterdam. The best way to roll is cash money, but rolling with mad cash is a security issue.

When I spoke with Immigration and my lawyer in the Netherlands about my situation, they told me I had to open a business, which I was in no position to do, since I already have a full-time job drawing graphics for REBEL8. So I just decided to fuck it and lay low. Had I decided to stay longer, I would have just avoided flying in and out of Amsterdam. If you travel by train once you're in Europe, it's easier to avoid problems with customs officers since they don't scan passports. When you get your passport scanned at airports, they can see where else you've been scanned and when. So, if you're in the EU for more than 90 days, just avoid airports, until you're ready to come back Stateside for 90 days again. Legally, it's 90 days in the EU, then 90 days out before you can return. That's their deal. Also, obviously avoid the Police. They can check you out and have your ass deported in minutes.

I always get a list from friends of people to contact in foreign cities before I get there. They are always the most helpful. They can get you settled, and let you know where the grocery stores and bike shops are. You'll also need a chill place to stay for a few weeks while you look for an apartment. It's almost impossible to rent an apartment in Europe without papers or fluency in the local language, so you're best bet is Craigslist (how I scored my houseboat). Landlords that speak English are super helpful, and you'll find them on Craigslist. God Bless It. You can also hire apartment finders, who generally charge one month rent to get you sorted, which is reasonable considering the nightmare of trying to deal with local landlords that don't want the hassle of renting to a foreigner without a local bank account or work visa. Cash talks though, but you have to watch out for scams. The world is full of shady motherfuckers.

Is there a relationship between Art and Meditation? -submitted by A.G.

If one chooses to make the connection, it's easy to do. When I do formal meditation practice, I simply try to let my thoughts come and go without attachment, using my breath to come back into concentration when my mind wanders. I have found great benefit in doing the same practice when I'm drawing, because it keeps me focused and light-hearted. I used to let my mind create all kinds of hateful thoughts when I would draw, using the art making experience to further my loathing, to soak in it. But I can see now that when my mind is tense and angry, it's horribly distracted from the simple joy that art making should always be.

As I've gotten older, I've come to understand that my creativity runs smoother when my mind is relaxed and not caught in unwholesome thought. That was a profound breakthrough for me. I no longer see the merit in allowing unwholesome thoughts to manifest in any form. And frankly, since this enlightenment of sorts, the time I spend making art has been exponentially more surprising and inspiring.

Mike, I have been a huge fan and collector of your work. After your last trip to Australia it was great to meet you and also see your fan base grow down here. Do you think you will be planning another show here? And would you create any artwork based on Australia? I really love your architecture style illustrations, and would love to have a Mike Giant special of a Melbourne alleyway. -submitted by CAM

I would love to show in Melbourne again someday. I love it. It reminds me a lot of San Francisco great art scene, cool bars, rad people, hills, and great weed. I'd love to get back to Melbourne someday and bomb around on track bikes with PAM and The Serps!

I had a great time illustrating the cover of Monster Children from an architectural photo I took while I was in Sydney. I'd love to make a drawing of a Melbourne spot. I'll add that to my to-do list. I love drawing buildings. I'm glad you're feeling those ones.

When I first got into graffiti I would often mistake your last name for Obey Giant. Is there any correlation between the two Giants? -submitted by Davis DeBard

We're old friends now. We both started hitting the streets in the late '80s. I took the graffiti writing culture to heart, whereas Shepard has always been about stickers and posters. In the early days, it bothered me that some people didn't realize we were different people. But now, it's just an easy way to pick out the toys.

If he ever got stuck in a jail cell for a year and all he got left was two spray cans (black and white), and a deaf jail mate who can sign yet can't speak nor hear, what would he do in that cell with them? -submitted by Gabe

I'd paint something really nice in our cell with the spray paint. Maybe huff some of it. I'd learn how to sign. I think the quiet would be nice. From there, I'd probably just meditate and sleep a lot. Do some yoga. Dream about my girl...

Plagiarism has plagued your art for many years. If you could have an afternoon alone with a biter, what would you do? -submitted by Greg Geez

Nothing. I can't be mad at biters anymore. Being a biter is it's own punishment. To me it just shows a lack of depth and history. Copycats don't get props. OGs get props. If you don't come with your own shit, you're wasting your time.

Of course, taking influence from the things around you is cool, and important. Biting to me is really particular. It's so obvious, and childish, and unenlightened.

I know you quit tattooing, but what in the world can I do to get a piece done by you?! It would be the best thing ever! I'll be back in San Francisco for Christmas! -submitted by Jordan

You should really get tattoo'd by the hot shots around here. My skills have faded, and I really don't enjoy it anymore. Sorry.

I've read that you completely start over if you mess up to preserve the badassery and quality of your illustrations. With graf there's ways around messing up your line work, but what are some parallels that you've found between working with a sharpie and working with aerosol? And, is it true that they're coming out with herb scented Mike Giant sharpies? -submitted by Josh Elowsky

"Badassery". I like that. I just figure if someone is going to pay top dollar for one of my illustrations, it better be as perfect as I can make it. If I fuck up, fuck it. Shit happens. Try again.

I agree that it's not too hard to fix up mistakes with spray paint, but quickness is a big part of the graffiti game, and it's always better to nail your outline straight away so you can get the fuck on to the next spot. In that way, lining pieces can be a lot like lining with Sharpies, or even a tattoo machine. It requires a directness of concentration that can't be faked. Precise action.

And, yes, I am working on a weed-scented Sharpie. I've been testing the combination in my studio for many years, and I think I've almost got it just right. (Just kidding, Sharpie Corporate! - kinda.)

Everybody knows hipsters, graffiti, track bikes, etc are dead and pretty much played out. Where do you see the next trend/counterculture scene headed.... -submitted by Kurt Dalen

Gosh, that's harsh, Kurt. First of all, I'm a "grandpa hipster", and it suits me just fine. And after dedicating almost 20 years to writing graffiti, I hope it never dies. And as for track bikes, there have been hip, cocky young men and women riding them around the streets of San Francisco for over 100 years! Look it up. None of this stuff is played out, dead, or otherwise. It's ongoing. You'll see for yourself as you get older. The next thing will simply be a remix of shit from the past, because none of us are really all that imaginative anyway.

What would the most ultimate job or project be for you with unlimited budget? -submitted by Wesley van Eeden

Right now, I'm looking for a space where I could build a small velodrome for an art project. I'm also trying to get a crew together to make an adult magazine, which could sure use some funding.

And, would you ever do a show in South Africa?

I'll send my drawings anywhere they'll be safe.

Just wondering what advice you have for other artists who want to do a clothing company and what are the right steps in order to make it as successful as yours - not sure if you willing to share your knowledge with us? Do you make enough money doing it and do you think you'll be doing it for the rest of your life?

Find the right business partner. To make great art, you need plenty of freedom. If I had to run the business and draw everything, it would have to be a tiny operation. Also, it wouldn't reach as many people. REBEL8 wouldn't grow if my buddy Joshy wasn't taking care of the business so I can take care of the drawings. It's essential.

I make enough money to be comfortable without being lazy. I try to consciously live simply so my expenses are low. I really enjoy my present lifestyle, and I think I could ride out the rest of my life like this without regret. Good times!


What projects are you working on? What do you have coming down the line?

Right now I'm drawing the graphics for the Winter 2009 REBEL8 collection. I'm also working on some stuff for Clark Magazine and 4130 Bicycles. In the coming months, I'll be working on some projects with Cinelli Bicycles and Mike Martin from MASH. I'm also hoping to work on some collaborative stuff with my buddy Dustin at Cadence. And in April I'll be showing new works at Magda Danysz Gallery in Paris with my old friend Dalek.

You recently moved back to San Francisco. How's SF feel to when you used to live here before... When did you live here last?

I lived around the Bay from '93 to '03, then returned last month. In the mid '90s, the City was still pretty tough. I got jumped on Upper Haight in '94, and robbed at gunpoint on Lower Haight a few years later. I saw lots of violence in those days. I also had lots of good times in the rave scene during the first few years here. That shit was awesome. I felt like you could feel the pulse of the City back then, for better or worse.

It feels like the City's spirit was wounded badly during the Dot Com Boom. I watched the Loft Invasion, and it made me sad. I saw a lot of really rad people leave the City during those years. Some, like myself, split for the East Bay, which had a thriving scene.

It feels like SF is just now starting to come back around. I can feel the creative flow coming back, the grit. I'm hopeful that Obama can help lead us to better times, filled with more love, and less greed and corruption. Let's go, people!

What are some of your favorite spots in the city? Some favorite places to go, eat, drink, bike ride?

Food: Boogaloo's, Tu Lan, Pancho Villa, Herbivore, Pauline's, St. Francis, Millenium, Minora, Benders, Golden Boy, Valencia Pizza and Pasta, Jay's.

Beers: Benders, Zeitgeist, Toronado, Blondie's, Hemlock, Molotov's, Edinburgh Castle, Li-Po, Tonga Room, Hyde Out.

Biking: Pedaling hard around the EMB, bombing through GG Park to the beach, and mashing around the Mission.

Are you doing much work on the street these days? How is San Francisco graffiti scene these days? Kinda seems a bit slow.

I'm not writing much these days. I'm inspired by other stuff more. I still read it all, but I don't feel that compulsion to participate so much anymore. But from the looks of it, SF's scene is still alive and well. The buff is on pretty hard, but I still see new things every day as I ride around town.

We know you practice meditation... Are there any centers here in SF you go to or do you just do it at home?

I like to sit with the Urban Dharma group on Fridays when my buddy Vinny is teaching. He's great. Other than that, I don't sit with a group in SF regularly, but I'm looking. I've done a few retreats at Spirit Rock in Marin, and I really recommend it. The retreat experience is the real deal, and Spirit Rock is a great place to do it.

As a lifestyle, I sit informally here and there throughout the day as need be to calm my mind, and practice Mindfulness as much as possible otherwise. Also, I'm offering a regular meditation practice every Wednesday evening at Dolores Park at 7pm, starting again on January 7th. I will post more info about it on the REBEL8 blog. I've had a few meetings already, and I look forward to offering it again.

Inspirations growing up in art and other fields?

Girly magazines from the 70s, BMX Plus!, Thrasher, Big Brother, Charles Burns comic books, heavy metal album covers and tour shirts, The Warriors, Wild Style, H-Street, Blind, Metallica, Public Enemy, KRS One, and on and on and on...

You used to work at Think doing graphics way back in the day. How did you end up working in skateboarding and any interest in skating anymore?

I rode skateboards every day from '85 to '97. After that, I rolled around occasionally until about '03, had a gnarly injury, and gave it up. I still have a lot of love for skateboarding. I love watching the new videos, and I still like to check out the new decks at DLX or FTC. Skating rules. Always will.

I got the job at Think after I sent them some examples of my work. I sold them a few graphics while I was still going to college in New Mexico in '93, and they offered me a full-time job later that year. I was psyched! That job set a lot of great shit in motion.

Words to live by?

"Don't believe everything you think." (I saw it on a bumper sticker, but it's good.)

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