Kristen: Where are you now? Set the scene for us.
Mike Giant: I’m at home. I’m living in a big studio apartment. Everything I need is here: my bed, my desk, my books, my computer, my stereo, my big screen, my CDs and DVDs, my clothes. It’s about 6:30pm so the light is starting to die down here.
What’s currently on your drawing table?
My computer, printer, some cameras, my phone, a cup of tea, a box full of Sharpies and pencils, some reference books, a metal 22-inch ruler, a mason jar with some weed in it, rolling papers, headphones, some bicycle tools, and a knife with a box of blades.
You are known to work with Sharpies. What else can you tell us about your work process?
It starts with an idea, then I’ll gather reference material if I need it. I’ll make sketches on tracing paper. Sometimes I’ll play with the layout in Photoshop and sketch some more. Once the sketch looks right, I enlarge it to about 15x20-inch and tape it to the back of a clean sheet of white paper. Then I put it on the light table and ink the graphic with Sharpies. If I make a mistake during the inking process, I start over. I like the final drawings to be flawless and rendered straight through in one sitting if possible.
As a perfectionist, do you put a lot of planning into your images, or is it mostly intuitive?
Both. I like a balance of things that are heavy with meaning, history and symbolism with things that are abstract and expressionistic.
Words: Kristen Lee Lim
Artwork: Mike Giant
For all intents and purposes Mike LeSage’s alias “Giant” fits him perfectly. He is mythically tall, a lowbrow legend, and he has most definitely conquered worlds. A graffiti pioneer, respected tattooist, the founder of Skullz Press, an ordained minister with a foothold in the fashion world as co-creator of REBEL8 clothing, and a notable fine artist who shows his work at galleries around the globe, Mike Giant is a major figure in so many senses whom I have loved for a long time.
Mike has been drawing since the time he could hold a pencil. Growing up he had supportive parents who made sure he scored a new set of markers at every gift-worthy festivity. He was born in New York, raised and schooled in New Mexico, has spent time living and working in California, London, Amsterdam and more, but he seems to always find his way back to the beloved city of San Francisco, the city where things really blew up for Giant.
His career is long and contains many highpoints. His accomplishments are numerous and interdisciplinary. It starts in San Francisco in ‘89 with graffiti and the ATK crew. Then a job doing graphics for Think Skateboards in the early ‘90s. Bombs away in SF baby! His production and distribution of graffiti zines leads to the conception of Skullz Press, and Giant’s own publishing house is born. He launches REBEL8 clothing with buddy Joshy D. in ‘93, which started out-the-trunk and is now his cash cow—still going strong. Mike turns to tattooing in ‘98 and returns to NYC to work at mentor Nalla’s East Side Tattoo. Back in Cali, he goes on to dominate the tattoo world working at world-class parlors Newskool Tattoo of San Jose, Everlasting in SFC, Oakland’s Tattoo13, and his one-time own Albuquerque shop Stay Gold. Eventually Giant retires from tattooing to nurture REBEL8 and focus on the making and showing of his fine art.
It’s clear to see how life experiences have influenced Giant’s imagery. Melting faces that reflect his heavy metal roots. Perfectly voluptuous female figures that reveal his love of porn. Big fat roses and sexy cholas informed by Mexican folk art and his time in New Mexico. He comes from a culture of punk, hip-hop, skateboarding and biking, has a deeply spiritual sensibility, and all of this somehow shines through vibrantly in his achromatic work. He is a book-loving, pot-smoking, bike-riding mofo who appreciates simplicity, admires trees and makes a bunch of badass art. Contrast was lucky enough to catch up with Giant and conquer some Q&A.