In part II of Mike Giant’s Impermanent Vacation we head back to the very beginning and explore Giant’s earliest years, tracing his childhood influences, through college and moving out to San Francisco to working at the burgeoning Think Skateboards. Once he got out to San Francisco Giant began studying Buddhism and dabbling in LSD, so to celebrate Bicycle Day we are excited to present three new blotter paper editions from Mike Giant featuring the designs of the actual blotter that Giant would sell throughout the 90s. Printed by Zane Kesey — who’s father Ken Kesey founded the infamous 1960s Acid Tests — these editions are available individually and in extremely limited 3-print sets. Read on as we explore Giant’s earliest influences, his approach to color, staying in the lines, LSD, mediation, Think Skateboards and much more in our latest installment in Mike Giant’s Impermanent Vacation. Be sure to snag one of Giant’s blotter editions right here on 1xRUN before they are gone. . .
1x: Let’s start back at the beginning, you were saying earlier that you born in upstate New York and then you moved right?
Giant: Yea, I was born in upstate New York in 1971. My dad was the town barber. My mother was a student at the time and Dad was a hot rodder, well he was when he was a young man, his earliest dates with my mom were all at the drag strip. My dad and his brothers would race their cars. Famously in the house that I grew up in, the wall that faced the street was painted glossy black and my dad had put up a bunch of shiny hubcaps up on the wall as art. Not everybody was doing that back then. That was definitely one of my early influences.
Early on as a little guy, my godmother — her name is Patty, she’s an artist and a art teacher — she really encouraged me as a little kid to draw things. She made sure I had books and stuff in front of me to keep me interested and guide me. My parents were really good about that kind of stuff too. They’d buy me instructional art books. I remember Lee J. Ames. He was an author that did these how-to-books, like How-To Draw Dogs. It’d start with a rectangle, and then a circle, and then a few more circles, then a rectangle, then you’d connect the circles. It showed how you would build the drawing to a finished standpoint from a blank piece of paper.
So I learned how to draw freehand that way early on. I had a lot of friends that would show me different art techniques as I was getting older too. But, my father’s influence early on was that he would take me to car shows. We got to Albuquerque in ’79 when I was 8 years old, and we’d go to the car shows. It was mostly low riders, and I had never seen those before. So my mind was blown. These big colorful things. Hand shaped. Aw man. They were crazy. It was also the monster truck era. so it’d be a whole event. They were cool. Even the old Ed Roth roadsters, fiberglass bodied weird cars. There was a lot of that. I remember meeting my first Playboy playmate at the car show.
1x: Who was it?
Giant: Ahhh, I wish I remembered. I did that each time we went. I would always stand in line. Now I look back and think “What the fuck?” My dad was either kinda strange or hella cool just to let me wait in line with all these grown ups to get a picture with this lady. You know? But I will say that we did have Playboy magazine in the house. My mother had the subscription. When it came in the mail she was the first one to grab it and read it cover to cover. Then it’d just be out in the living room somewhere.
Giant: Yea, that’s the thing. Even if you look at the work of Patrick Nagel. He did illustrations in Playboy in the ’70s every month. He would do these pastel colors and heavy black outlines. That was his defining thing. That obviously must have made an impact on me. He even worked from photo reference in much the same way I do, breaking the human form down to simple contours and black shapes. That was hugely impactful as a young guy.
Then of course the stuff that kids would pass around in school. I always saw the Teen Angels magazines right when they first came out, the kids in school had them and they had a huge impact on me. Any kind of lettering and things like that, I was always interested in that. I started skateboarding after a trip to San Diego in 1984, and again the appeal there was that a skateboard was this big 10×30 inch piece of wood that had this amazing colored graphic on it. If you’re just looking for an object in the world that just has this amazing crazy graphics, there’s not that many really. You can think comic books maybe, but that’s not really like a thing. That’s why I dig custom cars. They’re colorful. They’re bananas. Murals I always liked. Mexican murals are vastly expressive and colorful. I love that. Even as a colorblind person myself I think I’m naturally attracted to colorful situations because they respond to my eyes really well.
Giant: Yea, I see color, but not the range that you do. My example is the crayon box that we’d get as kids. I feel like the wealthy kids would show up with the box of 144 with the sharpener built into the box. I’d be like “Fuck. That’s sick!” But at the same time I’d look at the range and there’d be a range of eight different yellows and it’d just look yellow to me. All those would just look like the same yellow. It’s just a simplicity game. Crayola came out with water based markers, I believe in the 70s, and they only came in 8 colors. So that’s how I developed my way of color and palette, it’s just really really simple. As a kid I would always ask my mom to buy me the set of florescent colors, because I was like “Damn, those are banging!” I could see those, and it was satisfying to put those down on the paper. It was a little brighter at first and then it soaks into the paper a little. I loved that.
If you think about coloring books, basically all I do all day is make coloring books. I’m the guy that makes the coloring books, I just don’t color them in. Even the precision of staying in the lines and filling things in smooth. I must have gotten tons of positive feedback for staying in the lines as a kid. I must have. I remember just from conversations from my mother, they really encouraged art because I was a motormouth. I did sound effects kind of constantly. I’d have imaginary battles constantly and just do sounds with my mouth.
1x: Like Police Academy style?
Giant: Yea! Sound effects. When I saw the Police Academy movie I was like “Oh my god!” My parents were like “Oh shit. He saw this guy that’s really good at what he does. Oh no. Oh no.” I remember them discussing with me like that they thought I might end up doing that for a living. I would just go off and I wouldn’t stop. They’d yell at me. My dad would try to swat at me from the driver’s seat of the car and I’d be sitting right behind him going “Pew! Pew! Pew!” So they found out that if they put art supplies in front of me that I was actually engaged. They had this huge bucket of Lincoln Logs and Legos, and that kept my ass quiet.
Once I was finished I’d animate it and get kinda crazy, and I’d have to get redirected. “Maybe try a coloring book. Really try to stay in the lines ok?” “Ok!” I’d concentrate. But that helped me academically later on. I feel like that’s something that I’ve had as an advantage, maybe even biologically. My mind can concentrate and I’m interested in concentrating. I think that’s part of the thing that led me to meditation practice. It’s the art of concentration. It’s the art of it, so there’s a lot of different ways that you can understand concentration when you really get into it and exercise it. Just like you can exercise your arm in a lot of different ways, you can exercise your brain in the same way. There’s all these different ways to loosen things up.
Even my meditation teachers have conceded that because I have a day-to-day art practice where I have really almost no distractions — or can be totally controlling of the distractions — that I have a lot more time to be contemplative and silent than they do. Because they run these retreats and write books and do psychotherapy and deal with their family. They don’t actually have a lot of time to sit and meditate. A lot of them don’t have a sitting meditative practice because they just don’t have the time. Now I think that’s fine because at a certain point what you learn on the cushion you have to take into the world. It doesn’t really do the world any good for you to just sit on the mediation cushion your whole life. I love the monks that I’ve met and that I practice with, but I can see quickly and clearly that it’s not what I should be doing. I have this ability to interact with the general public in a way that most people don’t, and I feel like I should use that to get into my heavier big picture ideas on the down low kind of. Versus kind of going into the woods and meditating for world peace. In the life that I’ve been offered as far as opportunities and what not I feel like I should be out here doing this. Not like a minister, but like I dunno a local medicine man. “You’ve got to go ask him. He doesn’t give a shit. He’s at the bar, you got something wrong he’s at the bar go ask him!” It’s not some evangelical thing at all.
1x: So was there a specific event that kind of led you down this path and got you moving down some of these things you were just talking about?
Giant: It was a real chain of events. It wasn’t one thing. Let’s see. I was raised Roman Catholic, and when I was about 15 or 16, and around that time you’re about to be confirmed. My parents at that point were like “This is something that you have to choose.” Most families it’s not really like that, it’s just you’re going to get confirmed. But my parents are reasonable folks. They knew I was smart enough to make the decision for myself. They could see that I was a good kid and the morality that they were trying to get across with that system. The deal was done. Let’s see if he’s really interested. I wasn’t, I thought it was silly. So from then on they said “you can go to church with us if you’d like to. If you do then you get to go out to breakfast with us.” And it was at a place that I loved. So sometimes I would get up. I’d go to church and sit through it respectfully and do my thing and then enjoy the breakfast after. We weren’t a family that ate out very much, so Sunday morning was usually it. These breakfast burritos man. Smothered in green chile. I really looked forward to that every week. Every time I go back to Albuquerque… anyways, I’m just saying that because I think that set a tone from that age, that said ok go explore on your own now.
So when I got into college I took a world religions class my first year. We read the sacred texts of the various religions, and the Buddhist stuff made the most sense to me. Just in terms of common sense. Relying on your experience to build your faith in what you’re doing. Everything you need to know is actually within you, you don’t need to ask other people. That was pretty intriguing to me. It wasn’t as fantastical and metaphysical as Hinduism. Islam I understood, but it still sounded a lot like Christianity to me. It wasn’t vibing with me. The Buddhist thing made sense. So, I left college in 1993 and moved to San Fransciso to go work for Think Skateboards. Once I was there I was seeing a lot more interesting stuff.
1x: So while you were in college you still living in New Mexico at this point and then you moved?
Giant: Yea, I went to the University of New Mexico on an academic scholarship. I was in the top 10% of my high school class, so it was a guaranteed scholarship. If you decided to stay in-state you were good, so I did that for four years and studied architecture. Then I got offered a job to work with Think in San Francsico in 1993. I was in my 4th year of architecture school, but my professors were like “Get out of here. Go have fun in California, come back to architecture when you’re an old man. You’ll be better anyway.” Architecture is an old man’s profession as far as they were concerned.
So I did. I split. The first place that I lived was walking distance from Haight Ashbury. I’d explore the book stores there. I dunno how long it was after I moved to San Francisco, but I had this deep sense that I was dissatisfied. I’m in this awesome city, that I’ve never been to before. I’ve got the dream job, I’ve already got tons of friends and I’m in the best skateboarding and graffiti zone ever. But I was kinda sad. It was tough. I was still kinda lonely. My girlfriend at the time was living in England. I was just soul searching right off the bat. It must have been that time. I was doing LSD here and there, as I could get my hands on it.
1x: At that time in San Francisco what was it like as far as the music scene goes, were you throwing parties yourself too?
Giant: I threw a few underground parties for sure, but just a few. There was a few where I had to go get the sound system and put it all together and all that shit. Hire the DJs and whatever, nothing too crazy. It was mostly my graffiti buddies that would come. I did that a lot. But I was going to all kinds of shit. In San Francisco in the 90s every night there would be shit happening. You had to choose what you wanted to do. I was particularly into jungle. So if I saw the word jungle on a flier or something I would check it out. It was really really rare for anybody to play that. There was a lot of situations where you wouldn’t know the schedule or lineup for the DJs and just one of the DJs would be playing jungle records and sometimes I would be there until dawn and it was the last DJ that would be jungle, and I’d be like fuck. I danced through some trance sets. I was a diehard. I’d stick through it. Because of that kind of niche scene those parties were a lot smaller, and I’d see similar faces. Those were in people’s homes or in lofts. Those type of thing. At the same time I was still going to the big coliseum style raves too. 60,000 people I think at New Year’s Eve ’94. That was heavy.
1x: Where was that?
Giant: That was in San Francisco at a place called the Cow Palace. The whole place was full. It was just a huge stadium. They had six different areas. They were huge. It was fucking incredible. I think I took something that night and I was so flared. It was ridiculous. I remember my buddy John shaking his head at me saying you’re way too high right now. I was like sorry man! He was like it’s ok, you’re ok, just listen to this for a minute. It was this dude Richie Hawtin and it was this real minimal techno.
1x: Oh yea. He’s actually from Detroit. Well, Windsor but…
Giant: Yea! It took me a few minutes to settle into it because I was so flared, but once I did I fucking fell in love with it. Even to this day I still love all that shit. Did he do Plastikman too?
1x: Yep! That’s him. He’s from Windsor and but he used to come across the bridge and come to Detroit to catch shows.
Giant: Yea! That’s the shit. That’s American music to me. I like that shit. I think it was a Cool World rave. They used to throw these gigantic monster raves. It was kinda the down time of the rave era. In San Francisco it was mostly popping in 90-93. So when I got there in 1993 it was already starting to taper off. But it forced it back underground, so that was cool. I was able to experience a wide range of locations and sounds and parties and whatnot. There were the clubs that we went to as well, we would go to the Sound Factory every weekend. All the guys that I worked with at Think. That was a big part of their social scene. You wanted to dress kinda nice, the girls were wearing heels and dresses. There was valet parking. My buddies were all really fucking good at hooking up with girls. They were handsome. They smelled real nice and danced real smooth. They had a lot of money to throw around.
1x: This is all the guys at Think?
Giant: Yea. They were getting laid right and left. It was crazy. I just didn’t understand that as much. I just liked the music and I liked to dance. So I didn’t give a fuck about trying to talk to girls at all really. I could give a fuck. But I did do that a lot, go get all up in the club. But then we’d leave and they’d all hop into the cars to go do lines and go to afterparties and whatnot, and I would bust out my stash of spray cans, like “I’m gonna walk home across town…” They’d just laugh like “Damn! That’s sick! Art staff! Go get it!” Those were great times. It was so fun. It was madness. Monday morning was just such an “awwww shit. Let’s hear all the stories.” Everybody that I worked with was clubbing and doing drugs and having a good time. Getting into crazy adventures. I loved it. Monday mornings were so funny to me.
1x: So how many people were working at Think at that time?
Giant: There was probably 10 of us in the whole building at that time. Shippers, phone salesmen, the three owners then me and my buddy Ben Lovejoy in the “art department.” That was actually just a closet at the end of a hallway.
When I went to San Diego and first met them they said they wanted to offer me a full time job doing graphics for them and I was excited and I said “Yea, fuck yea, I totally want to do this.” I think I just assumed that it meant that I should move out to San Fransisco and do it. It turned out that the sales guy that I had been talking to at Think, who was the original connection — Rob Russell, God bless him, he’s a sketchy fool — he fucking had a room available in his apartment. So he said we’ll put 2 and 2 together we just offered you this new job, he’ll be out here and be my new roommate. So when I went to Think that first Monday morning they were a bit surprised that I was there and didn’t understand what the fuck was going on. They were like “Well..shit. You’re here. We do want you to do all the graphics. Fuck. We’re gonna have to find you a spot in Ben’s office.” And Ben was working in a closet. He had to get up and scoot his chair by just for me to get out of the room. It was so tight in there. If either of us moved we would bump into each other. Still it was so fun…
To be continued…
Follow Mike Giant @ogmikegiant and stay tuned here at 1xNEWS for part three of our extended interview with Mike Giant. Next up we’ll continue discussing Giant’s roots in the burgeoning skateboarding world, his deepening yoga practice juxtaposed against the graffiti, tattooing and more as we the Impermanent Vacation continues… Read Part I here.
Mike Giant was interviewed by 1xRUN Editor-In-Chief Pietro Truba at the 1xRUN Studio in Detroit, Michigan. He has previously interviewed Niagara, Leni & John Sinclair, Ricky Powell, Doze Green, Fred Armisen, Janette Beckman and Shepard Fairey among others for 1xRUN. Follow him @pietrotruba