Mike Giant: Albuquerque's Finest

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Mike Giant’s art has been applied worldwide onto walls, trains, skin, skateboards, and sneakers, among other atypical canvases. While his graffiti as “Giant One” and his designs for Think skateboards brought him his first fame, these days it’s his fine art that earns him international solo shows from Paris to Melbourne.

Giant is inspired by everything from his Catholic upbringing in Albuquerque, New Mexico to electronic music to skin art; indeed, his clean and crisp black-and-white drawings–featuring heavily inked Madonnas in prayer, pirate ships sailing the high seas, and serpent-entwined skulls–often resemble tattoo flash. He’s also known for his facility with fonts, moving effortlessly between bubble letters, cholo script, and ornate calligraphy.

As he documents on his blog at Fecal Face, putting pen to paper isn’t the only thing keeping him busy–when he’s not riding his fixie in the desert heat, he’s found time to design custom kicks, a lowrider-inspired Scion, and exclusive apparel for San Francisco brand Rebel8. Regardless of the medium, though, Mike is most concerned with keeping his art as public as possible.

XLR8R: You recently retired from tattooing. Why?

Mike Giant: I got tired of dealing with clients, blood, tons of equipment, and shop bullshit. I make more money with Rebel8 and fine art now, so why break my back and hands tattooing? I’m done. I still love tattoos, and I continue to get tattoos, but it just doesn’t make sense for me to do it anymore.

Another longtime artistic outlet for you is graffiti. What did you learn from writing graf that you have been able to apply to your other work?

The idea of “getting up” has been a pretty fundamental drive for me as an artist. As a writer, I try to get my name up as much as possible. As an artist, I try to use that same mentality to get my work into the public eye. Also, writing graffiti taught me that I can’t covet the things I paint because they could get painted over the following morning. Same goes for my drawings now. As soon as a piece is done, I let it go.

How often do you write graffiti nowadays and do you still get the same feeling?

My little hometown is very anti-graffiti, so it just isn’t safe to write here. The police know me. I mostly paint when I’m traveling these days. I particularly enjoy painting in Europe. It’s a lot more fun over there.

Much of your fine art seems to be inspired by Catholicism and Day of the Dead imagery. To what do you accredit that influence?

Growing up in New Mexico. The Day of the Dead is one of many great local traditions that continue to thrive here. Every year around Halloween, the sugar skulls and altars start appearing. It’s just something that’s always been around, like green chile and sopapillas.

How has being back in Albuquerque affected the way you work?

I think the local influence is more apparent in my work as far as subject matter and style, but the way I work has remained unchanged for a long time. Living in a town like this, where there’s not much to do, keeps me busy in the studio. I feel like I’ve been more productive here than in San Francisco.

What are some of your favorite places to go in Albuquerque?

I go to Bagel Joe’s almost every morning for the only real bagels in Albuquerque. Highly recommended. I love $2 margarita Tuesdays at Los Cuates. I try to support the local indie movie theatre, The Guild, as much as possible. My favorite place to drink and play pool is Anodyne. Albuquerque is also full of concrete flood-control channels that I love to ride my bike in. Riding the ditches is my favorite shit lately.

How else does it compare to living in San Francisco?

Albuquerque is stupid cheap. You wouldn’t believe it. We have full seasons here, which I dig, but the summers are fucking blazing hot. Albuquerque is really spread out, so you can’t really walk anywhere. The live music scene here is pretty dead. I miss seeing shows in S.F. a few times a week; same goes for clubbing. I wish there was an Endup [an S.F. afterhours club] in Albuquerque. The food here is awesome, but I miss the variety in S.F.

Given your love of track bikes, how has Albuquerque been for riding?

Since Albuquerque is so spread out, I get in a lot more miles here. There are lots of bike trails and bike lanes that keep me out of traffic, and plenty of roads I can sprint on safely. Also, because of the high altitude, my lungs get a lot stronger up here. On the downside, drivers here are not used to seeing cyclists on the road at all, so I have to be extra cautious. The drivers here are the worst I’ve ever seen. I see drivers breaking basic rules of the road every day. The heat is a killer too. Riding in 100-plus temperatures is no fun.

Can you talk about meditation and the role that plays in your artistic process?

Meditation practice allows me to clear my mind of discursive thoughts so that I am responding from a place of calm and fluidity. In that space, I feel like I can observe my “self” in the act of creating. I just let it go and see what happens. And at the same time, because my mind is focused on “doing” rather than “thinking,” I have much greater control and patience.

How much does hip-hop, old-school jungle, and other music you dig inspire you?

It’s the soundtrack of my life. It’s art, the medium of sound. I think if you looked at my drawings and heard what I was listening to as I created the piece, you’d get a better feel for the drawing. The sound of drums keeps my head nodding all day in the studio.

What albums have been a motivational force for you lately?

This month, I’ve been really feeling a mix CD I got a while back: Fabric 15: Tyrant Mixed by Craig Richards. It’s laid-back, but it’s got a really nice groove. I just got some newer Fat Jon stuff that I love. As far as downtempo beats goes, Fat Jon is my favorite. I love the beats he’s done for Five Deez. They rule. Madlib’s work is really inspirational as well, especially his jazz projects.