Arts and Culture

Mike Giant Makes a Big Mark on the Art World From Boulder

Mike Giant is a veteran artist with nearly three decades of experience — an OG in the graffiti game, but also a practicing Buddhist with an awe-inspiring presence.  A transplant to Colorado who arrived almost two years ago, Giant works in a big garage studio behind his property in Boulder, continuing a career that's spanned painting, tattooing, and designing logos for companies such as REBEL8, Vans, Adidas, Converse and more. 

In the video for Major Lazer and Pharrel's "Aerosol Can," Giant can be seen drawing the lyrics in his lively typography.  A connection to music isn't new for Giant; he'll play records at the March release party for Suspect Press's tenth issue at the 1280 Sherman Arts Open House. "Tevent" includes two new short graphic novels by Daniel Landes, a recent Westword Colorado Creative, as well as one in collaboration with Noah Van Sciver, the award-winning comic artist. Suspect Press editor-in-chief Josiah Hesse will also be celebrating with a late local release of his novel Carnality.

A skateboarder who was born in upstate New York, then moved to Albuquerque at the age of nine and attended college there, Giant later lived in San Francisco for almost two decades. A lifetime cannabis advocate, he says he moved to Colorado to feel all four seasons again, to spend time with friends and to smoke weed legally.

Giant's love of boarding is a major reason that such heavy-hitting companies as Vans use him;  they see his work as synonymous with the cool, bold movement of art that isn't limited to canvas but appears on skateboards, T-shirts, merch and every wall in between. 

Giant describes himself as a modern hunter — but instead of hunting prey, he hunts walls. Keep reading for our Q&A with this major player on the current arts scene.
Westword: Do you still tattoo, or are you taking a break?

Mike Giant: I do it here and there still. Not that often. Mostly, if a friend is in town and wants something, or if I owe somebody a favor, shit like that. It's worth a lot in that way.

I enjoyed your piece on the interior of Project Colfax; how did you get involved in the project?

My friend Emit knows the guy who owns the building, and he gave me the lowdown on how it was going to get knocked down — that the owners didn't care if we went in and did some stuff, because it was going to get smashed in the end. It's cool that it is still there; we really didn't know how long the building had. That's the danger of graffiti writing: Even if you do it with permission somewhere, you never know how long it's going to last.

In your opinion, is that the beautiful thing about graffiti as an art form?

Kinda. It makes it so you don't contemplate it that much. I'm into Buddhist ideas, and they want you to get ego-less. Graffiti writing is a really ego-driven activity. But there is this level of impermanence and letting go that is inherent in it. I've never thought of it in that way. So yes, it kind of balances the battle.

It's very much a present-moment experience. Especially if you go out in the middle of the night by yourself and risk going to jail.
Ego is inherent to the game. It's one of those things where you can kind of get away with it. If you're a self-sufficient artist, you don't have to answer to anyone, for better or for worse. People assume that tattoo artists could be assholes, but it might be worth it to get a good tattoo from them, to put up with their shit.

Is tattoo art to you the opposite of graffiti, or in the same realm as graffiti art?

It's totally different; it's the opposite experience. Again, you know the impermanence of our own bodies. The first time one of my tattoo clients died, I realized that. The world lost him along with the piece: It's gone, no one's ever going to see it again. With graffiti, I go out and I can do my own thing, to please myself; if I mess up, it's no big deal. Tattooing is totally the opposite of that. Every line counts. Every little thing, and it's going to be studied, versus graffiti — it's not studied in the same way over a lifetime. 

Do you think the majority of graffiti artists and writers are hell-bent on destruction?

Oh, yeah, it's all sorts. There's the arty kids, the destruction kids, the kids in between. There are the kids involved in real crime who start graffiti because it's a lesser offense and they can get notoriety without killing people. Some come in late in life. It's a weird thing. It's had such a long time to evolve; it continues to amaze me. Its acceptance in popular culture is a trip.

Does your work imply a sort of denial of pink and blue and arbitrary gender differentiations?

I've played against those kinds of stereotypes my entire life, since I'm colorblind. I don't make those sort of associations with color like other people do. I have always been known for wearing hot pink T-shirts, fluorescent shorts, crazy colors. I didn't care at all. I could be wearing that hot pink for months, it doesn't matter.

Part of it is because I grew up in a hard, working-class family. I don't get caught up too much in the bullshit. A T-shirt's a T-shirt. I got into fashion or street wear because I just draw something that appeals to them, but it's not because I am fashionably inclined in any way. Left to my own devices, I just buy white T-shirts. When I dress myself, I don't think about what I'm putting on. I just throw it on.
Have you been to Red Rocks, and are you going to a show there this year?

You know, honestly, I don't like shows that big anymore. I've done that; I don't like the inconveniences of so many people. I don't find it fun anymore. But a good dirty bar show? Where at least I can stand without getting knocked around or something? Yes. I like to go dancing. I really like to dance. I'm a big guy, but I like to go dancing. I usually go on Sunday nights. The big shows seem unnecessary at this point for me.

The other thing, too — I get to sit here in the studio all day and bump my music as loud as I want. I don't feel like I need to go somewhere to have a powerful music experience anymore, because I can have it right here. Most of it is catalyzed by a new podcast I just downloaded, a new cannabis strain I haven't tried. I have cried before because I've had such a profound emotional experience with music on my own.

Are you an emotional person in general?

I do know that. I have put in work with Buddhist monks, studied — the whole point is to open up your heart. It does work. It can be awkward as fuck, because I do cry at the littlest things compared to my male friends. It doesn't bother me, because I've done work to open myself up in this way. It doesn't mean people take advantage of me. 

That's just it — I think it's just the human experience. I'll allow myself to feel things. I'll cry in the movies. But I don't think it makes me soft or air-headed or flighty, you know? It's just— and that's the thing with the Buddhist practice: to allow yourself to feel things, but don't stick to it. Recognize it, then let it go. Why is your body sending you this signal of pain? It's trying to tell you something. You have to recognize it and allow yourself to feel it. If you don't, it just keeps coming back. . 
See Mike Giant spin at the Suspect Press unveiling at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 19, at the 1280 Sherman Arts Open House celebrating Suspect Press's latest issue.
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Lindsey Bartlett is a writer, photographer, artist, Denver native and weed-snob. Her work has been published in Vanity Fair, High Times and Leafly, to name a few.
Contact: Lindsey Bartlett