Rolling Stone Italy
January 21, 2015
What are your first memories of tattooed people?
I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. My family moved there from upstate New York in 1979. I was 8 years old. Almost every weekend my dad would pack the family into his old 1949 Chevy delivery van and we’d visit the Albuquerque flea market. Folks from all over town were there. It was a great place to people watch. It was there that I started to see tattoos. Many of the older Cholo guys had fineline black and grey tattoos visible on their arms. My dad told me that most of their tattoos were done in prison. I loved them and to this day those are my favorite kind of tattoos.
Who did your first tattoo? What did you get?
Mr. Went in Albuquerque gave me my first tattoo in 1992. It’s a graffiti design of the word “Giant” wrapped around my left bicep. My old friend Jerry “Joker” Inscoe designed it for me.
How did you start tattooing? Who was your first customer?
My friend Nalla agreed to apprentice me in 1998. He gave me all the necessary equipment and asked me to tattoo myself. I put a big graffiti design on the top of my left thigh and showed him the results. He was impressed and told me to tattoo my friends for a while. I think my buddy “Kodick” Joe was my first customer. I outlined his right leg from the knee down that first session.
How did you learn to draw? Did you go to art school?
I’ve been drawing since I could hold a crayon. I took art classes in public schools until I was around 13. I went to private art instruction on the weekends during my early teens and drew at home a lot throughout the rest of my teen years. In college I took the required art courses for my architecture degree but had little interest in fine art otherwise. During my first year of college I started writing graffiti and that has continued to be a big part of my art practice to this day.
Name some visual artists that have influenced you the most.
Patrick Nagel, Charles Burns, Ed Roth, Ed Hardy, Jim Phillips and Vernon Courtland Johnson to name a few.
Are drawing skills essential to be a good tattoo artist?
No. I’ve met many tattooers that can’t draw but can apply a tattoo perfectly.
Is tattooing art or craft?
Both. It is art when the tattooer is an artist and a craft when the tattooer is simply a craftsman.
How long did it take to get to Mike Giant style?
When I look back, I can see that my style was pretty well established by the time I left Think Skateboards in 1997. I worked there for 4 years and I think that’s where the majority of my stylistic development occured.
Did you ever wish somebody you tattooed was a wall?
Hmm, weird question. I guess it would be nice if tattoo customers could sit as still and upright as a wall.
What do you say to those who try to copy your designs and make ugly tattoos out of it?
Find a good tattooer that can copy my designs well. That’s all. Do some research. Don’t assume your local tattooer can handle anything you throw at them, especially my stuff. I think my designs need a certain level of interpretation to make them last.
Are there any tattoos that you refuse to do?
These days I refuse almost everything that gets thrown at me. But when I was working full-time in a shop I generally refused to tattoo hands, necks and faces unless the person was already heavily tattooed. The only subject matter I’ve consistently refused is portraits.
What do you like to do when you are not making art?
I’m an avid cyclist. I ride my bikes for a few hours every day. I like to read books, meditate and practice yoga. I like to cook and eat fine foods. I love hanging out with my friends. I love women and sex. I love shopping at record stores, bookshops and thrift stores. I like to paint on walls once in a while too. That’s about it. I like to live simply.
How is the art scene in Denver?
I don’t know much about it to be honest. I’ve only been to a handful of galleries there. Seems like there’s a thriving arts scene though. I had a solo show at Black Book Gallery in Denver last year and it was great. The show sold out and I met lots of cool people. I hope to do more in Denver this year.
Do you have any thoughts about tattooing TV reality shows?
I’ve seen a few episodes of “Ink Master” and I hated it. Fuck TV.
Do you have any advice for the younger tattoo artists?
Just make tattoos. Try hard every fucking time. Don’t just copy designs from other people. Draw/redraw everything yourself. Be nice to your customers. And share your work as much as you can.
What are your next shows? Are you coming to Italy/Europe anytime soon?
I’ve been trying to improve my health so I haven’t been travelling as much lately. I don’t currently have any plans to visit Europe. But I do show work with Antonio Colombo Arte Contemporanea in Milan on occassion, so you might see me out there again someday.