Tattoo Tuesday: Mike GIANT Stands Tall
Welcome to the first Tattoo Tuesday, a new weekly 12ozProphet feature in which we’ll spotlight a skilled artist that straddles both mediums. Tattoos and graffiti have grown from renegade underground art forms to become firmly entrenched as part of mainstream culture, and over the past few decades, urban culture has converged in such a unique way that many artists work on both skin and walls. In every respect tattoos and graffiti are the ultimate forms of self-expression, so join us as we spotlight tattooers and graffiti artists who’ve changed the game.
Deeply rooted in graffiti, skateboard, and tattoo culture, Michael LeSage, aka Mike GIANT, is quite literally a giant in all three. Growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico in the 1980s and drawn to the punk rock and hip-hop culture swirling around him, GIANT’s work in many different mediums has made him a living legend.
GIANT’s graffiti became, and still is, a staple of the Bay Area street art scene. Since being introduced to graffiti’s New York City public transit masters through Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant’s seminal book Subway Art in 1985, GIANT started tagging a local skate spot in San Francisco a few years later and quickly became hooked. His first piece read “Uptown Sk8 Posse” with the names of all his skateboarding friends underneath it. Tall and lanky, he got the name GIANT from a friend who mused that he’d go down like a giant every time he fell off his skateboard.
Crediting AGREE and DOC as his mentors, GIANT started getting up all over town, and his visual palette reflects his bi-coastal influences. His trademark aesthetic combines the precise linework of a draftsman (he went to architecture school) with the lettering and character work of the East Coast greats-all uniquely reflected through the prism of hip-hop, skate and punk culture.
While he mostly sticks to commissioned work as of late, GIANT’s legendary status among graffiti writers across the world cannot be understated. He’s revered as a West Coast OG and is regularly cited as one of the most influential writers of the last two decades.
Whatever the medium GIANT stands tall in the art world leaving in his wake a body of work that cements his status as an icon.
In the late-90s GIANT bought an unassembled tattoo machine, taught himself how to put it together, and began inking. In 1999 he moved to New York’s Lower East Side to begin tattooing in earnest, going on to work at top shops in the Bay Area before eventually opening up his own shop in his native Albuquerque. His ink-on-paper flash featuring exquisite calligraphic typography in recent years has become as ubiquitous as any of his other artwork.
“I approach illustration and tattoo design from basically the same point,” GIANT said. “There are more limitations in skin, but the way I execute the idea to fruition feels the same. To me, the tattoo will last the life of the wearer, maybe 90 years? I’ve seen illustrations that are a few hundred years old. So what’s more ‘permanent’ really? Graffiti is something I just do on the spot these days. I do it when it feels right. I don’t draw much graffiti at all anymore.”
The intense physicality of tattooing and the stress it places on his joints has recently kept GIANT from tattooing on a large scale preferring to ink friends on occasion. But no matter his activity level, GIANT’s stamp on the tattoo community is indelible. For his part, GIANT sees an intrinsic link between tattooing and graffiti writing.
“I think it’s the mentality behind them that’s the vital link between these two disciplines,” GIANT said. “Some people decide to overstep the limits of a “normal” lifestyle, and tattooing is a way of being subversive by embracing underground culture. It’s the same with graffiti. These two forms of expression embrace a common desire to break rules and to create art in the face of every conventional obstacle.”
Skating since the early 1980s, GIANT was offered a job designing decks for Think Skateboards in San Francisco in 1993. He designed boards for some of the best shredders in the world including Eric Dressen, Duane Peters, Jason Jessee and Phil Shao. GIANT’s artwork also has appeared on decks for FTC, Krooked, Adrenalin and Santa Cruz Skateboards.
GIANT took his graffiti, tattoo and skate aesthetic to another level with the creation of REBEL8. After initially discovering GIANT’s graffiti plastered all over the Bay Area in the late-90s, Joshy D. made a tattoo appointment with GIANT and the two became friends. Fast-forward a few years later and REBEL8 began as a streetwear line that featured GIANT’s artwork. Over a decade later the pair is going stronger than ever with REBEL8’s status as a top-shelf streetwear and apparel company cemented in the fashion industry.
Whatever the medium GIANT stands tall in the art world leaving in his wake a body of work that cements his status as an icon. Viva GIANT!
Follow GIANT on Instagram at GIANTREBEL8.