Graffiti purist, occasional tattoo artist and fine artist Mike LeSage, better known to the world as Mike Giant, came of age in the Albuquerque skateboard culture, a milieu he absorbed into his professional life. In the Shepard Fairey mold, he leads a double creative life, leaving his mark on waiting walls at night while doing commissioned and highly collectible work by day. A relative newcomer to Colorado who settled in Boulder a few years ago, Mike Giant agreed to come out from the shadows to answer Westword’s 100CC questionnaire.
#69: Mike Giant
Westword: If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?
Mike Giant: I’d go with Major Taylor. He was the fastest cyclist in the world at the beginning of the twentieth century. I have a tattoo on the top of my right hand in his honor. He was a man of great moral fortitude, a model American. He fought racial injustice throughout his life, found fame and fortune in Europe, and died penniless in Chicago in the 1930s. As far as the collaboration goes, I imagine myself designing posters for his races and events, meeting with him on occasion to show him my ideas, taking reference photos of him in racing mode. Nothing crazy. Just a chance to talk to the dude and offer my services.
Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?
Killer Mike. He’s a rapper in Run the Jewels, as well as a political activist and community organizer. I’m really inspired by his intelligence, compassion, business savvy and creative output. And I love that he leaves comments on my Instagram feed — @ogmikegiant.
What's one art trend you want to see die this year?
I’d love for the term “street art” to die. I hate being called a “street artist.” It’s about the most insulting thing you can call me, actually. I’m a graffiti writer. I write my alias. That’s it. And I break the law to do it. It’s a very particular activity with a very particular agenda and history. So it’s insulting to me to be lumped in with any knucklehead with a spray can painting Smurfs or outer-space scenes on walls. It’s insulting to the last 27 years I’ve been running from the police to express myself as a graffiti writer. I would never call the mural work I do for clients “graffiti” or “street art,” because it isn’t. Context and terminology are important. As far as I’m concerned, street artists should just be called muralists. That’s all they are, really.
What's your day job?
I work as a freelance illustrator. I also make tattoos on occasion. I sell original artwork in galleries around the world, and I’ve had a successful poster business for many years, too.
A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?
I’d build a self-sustaining commune and invite my friends to live with me.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
Denver is a beast. The greater Denver-area population is around three and a half million now and growing fast. That’s putting an incredible strain on the freeways and roads in general. I feel like I’m always getting stuck in traffic no matter which way I go. I left California because simply getting around became more and more difficult, so to see the same thing happening here is kinda disgruntling. But when I take public transit and my bicycle, getting around in Denver is a lot easier. It’s not a breeze, by any means. I’ve hit massive potholes in Denver bike lanes that flattened tires. And drivers really aren’t looking out for cyclists here, which isn’t very inviting, either. Not to mention the snow in winter, which isn’t fun.
The big things keeping me here? My awesome girlfriend, for one. The glorious views. I love the change of seasons. I love the clear air. I love all the great restaurants like the Buckhorn Exchange, Makan and Palenque Mezcaleria. I love shopping on South Broadway. I also love visiting the Museum of Contemporary Art. They have the best rooftop cafe in town.
On Thursday evenings from 6 to 10 p.m., I go to the Art Night drawing/painting/sculpting sessions at Black Book Gallery. We set up some tables and chairs and ask folks to bring their our own stuff to work on. We exchange ideas, techniques and shortcuts, listen to music and get high on the creative vibe. It’s open to the public, so there’s always a cool mix of people of all ages, skill levels and backgrounds. I look forward to it every week.
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
More free places for kids and teens to meet and be creative. I meet lots of young people who are eager to learn skills like hand lettering, tattoo design and spray-can technique but have no idea who to ask for guidance or where to go. I think public studio spaces with resident-artist supervision, instruction and encouragement would be really beneficial to Denver’s creative young minds. I feel like the city has seen the positive impact that the skateparks offer kids as a place to get creative and stay healthy. It’s a shame that Denver doesn’t provide similar facilities for kids who like to draw, paint, sculpt, design, produce music, sing, rap, write poetry, etc. — the things that got dropped from most public-school systems years ago. Kids never lost interest. And frankly, being immersed in the digital age, nowadays kids seem to have even more interest in how things were done by hand “back in the day,” as their parents say.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Sam Parker. He’s a dear friend. We’re about the same age. He’s an incredibly talented tattooer and illustrator. It was through his influence that I began Art Night. I love watching him draw. It’s mind-blowing. He’s got a really steady hand combined with a loose, free-form way of working. He’s a really inspiring person in my life. Check him out on Instagram — @samparkerartist.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
Lowriding on Federal in my Kurbmaster box van. Long rides all over the state on my Indian Scout motorcycle. Gallery shows in San Francisco, Detroit and Milan. And praying for those fat freelance jobs!
Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
Sam. He’s gonna move to Denver soon. He’s been living in Lyons and working in Boulder since he moved out from Atlanta last year. I think he’ll make serious waves once he settles into big-city life again.
Artwork by Mike Giant is available locally at Black Book Gallery. Keep up with Mike Giant on Instagram.