FEATURE///AN INTERVIEW WITH MIKE GIANT & USUGROW…

November 12, 2007  |  art, Feature, Street Life

giant_index.jpg

Masters of the black & white image, USUGROW and MIKE GIANT blew the doors off San Francisco's aptly titled WHITE WALLS GALLERY when their eponymous joint show opened to a throng of adoring fan boys and girls this weekend. Now, Supertouch sits down for a chat with both masters of black & white for a closer look at the methods to their fine line madness:

*(Installation photos by Supertouch allies Pushead and Brian Ewing.)

////////////20 QUESTIONS WITH USUGROW/////////////

gal_artist_96_1950_usugrow1.jpg
Who have been your heroes in life and why?
To me, heroes are not artists. I had to pick someone, I would say my parents.

What was your last exciting discovery?
It started to rain today in San Francisco. That was exciting.

What constitutes great art?
Mind state and philosophy of life. Not techniques.

Is art the object or the action?
Action.

What are you most compulsive about in life and why?
Eat, sleep, sex, and art. Why? Because we are animals and those are our basic needs. But beyond that because we are humans and we can enjoy them more than others.

What's your daily routine?
Smoke with coffee, make art, smoke with coffee, make more art, smoke with
coffee, smoke with coffee. You get it!

Has the current political climate affected the subject matter of your work or the way in which you approach it?
Yes, in a way, but my work is far more personal than political. But it is something that one day I will be able to communicate with others verbally and with my work.

What was your childhood like? Is it a great source of inspiration for your work?
From what I remember, I rode my bike a lot, but I don't think my childhood really inspired my work now.

The modern art world has been rife with sudden success stories and young artists who are making hundreds of thousands of dollars in the span of a few years with no track record to back them up (Banksy comes to mind). As a young artist yourself, how has this trend affected your outlook on your career and/or your expectations of success?
I'm not trying to sound harsh but I don't care about any of that. I'¢m going my own way.

Working in such a graphic style it would be easy for people to simply label your art as illustration. Do you consider your work to be fine art or are you comfortable with a more commercial tag? Is there a difference?
This is something that I have given much thought to but to be honest, I'm not sure how I view it. Also, giving labels to my work isn't something that I'm into. Just take it for what it is.

Do you think mankind is becoming more violent as time goes on or is the media just amplifying that trait?
It's a vicious cycle. Media provides a view and at the same time mankind is becoming more violent, if they feed themselves that's not very good. It's all messed up but at the same time, the fucked up shit brings light to all that is good. You can't have love without hate.

As someone who communicates through a great use of symbols in your work, can you tell me a little about the ones that mean the most to you and why you use them in your art?
One of my favorite symbols is called 'Shingan', the eye in the heart and the growth into the lotus from the heart. The meaning of this is how to enrich or how to achieve a good life. Life needs an open mind and an open path to the heart (the eye of the heart). With that, one develops his or her own life. The meaning of life is symbolized by the lotus.

A distinct sense of spirituality is evident in your work. Are you trying to communicate any particular message or sense of religious experience through your art?
Man, this is a very hard and intense question that needs more attention and thought in order to develop a short and distinct answer. I'll have to get back to you.

Merchandising has become an increasingly important aspect of modern artist's careers, from prints and T-Shirts to toys and custom shoes & cars. Do you think this has a negative effect on a fine art career in the long run? Does it cheapen an artist's work or vision? What influences your choices when working in a commercial sense?
This is another hard question to answer, but at the same time, if one wants to do it they should. Also, one needs to pay rent. With this there needs to be a balance between commercial work and gallery "fine art".

You're particularly renowned for your incredible lettering prowess. What have been your greatest influences in this arena and how did you hone your technique over the years?
I look at all fonts and typefaces that are around me. Not only do I look at their physical presence I also try to figure out why they are used in certain fashions and what sort of dynamic story they might hold. With that, I try to apply those influences into my work. Also, practice has a lot to with it.

Rick Griffin's artwork was godhead in reproduction, but close examination of his originals reveal great amounts of White Out and paper overlays to hide mistakes. As a technical artist working in the unforgiving medium of pen & ink, how dedicated to creating flawless work are you? Will you use correction fluid on your pieces or do you start over if you make a mistake?
Ha, you're trying to call me out! Just kidding. Well, it's a learning process. Over time, I have been able to create works that don't use or need extra corrections, but mistakes do happen from time to time. What can I say? I'm human. As far Rick Griffin's work, I don't believe his method was wrong at all. His method and presentation of final work was for print, so it makes sense that he utilized those corrective tools.

What modern artists do you find most inspiring?
I find inspiration from all artists (street, commercial, gallery, classical) and I'm always checking out my friends work, especially Pushead, Chaz Bojorquez, Toshikazu Nozaka (asianwaveskate.com), Bene (xbx.jp), Jun Kaneko (junkaneko.jp), and Zys.

You're someone who works in a very technical and traditional medium at a time when loose, Pop-oriented work continually sells for higher prices than finely rendered figurative work and enjoys much greater popularity. Does this fact affect your outlook on your work? Do you ever feel discouraged?
Well, I think about this all the time but I really try to keep my opinions to myself. I'd rather think about the philosophy of art, and form an appreciation at all levels, just like other people.

Are happy people liars?
Ha, this question makes me laugh. Well, if they say they are happy, they have a right to feel that way. I'm not judging.

If you weren't an artist, what would you be doing?
I am what I am, and that is an artist. That's all. >ST<

n8vandykeusugrow.jpg
The Lebron James of the underground art world, Nate Van Dyke, and his Japanese mini-me, Usugrow...

mgu323.jpg

usugrowwhitecanvas.jpg

gal_artist_96_1949_usugrow1.jpg

gal_artist_96_1947_usugrow8.jpg

gal_artist_96_1948_usugrow9.jpg

usugrowtrip3.jpg

gal_artist_96_1940_usugrow1.jpg

gal_artist_96_1953_blackand.jpg

gal_artist_96_1945_usugrow6.jpg

gal_artist_96_1942_usugrow3.jpg

gal_artist_96_1946_usugrow7.jpg

usugrowwhitecanvas.jpg

////////////20 QUESTIONS WITH MIKE GIANT///////////////
gal_artist_96_1934_mega_thumb.jpg
Who have been your heroes in life and why?
Anyone who follows the path of true love and compassion.

What was your last exciting discovery?
That I ride a pretty tough gearing ratio on my track bike.

What constitutes great art?
It's all great, really...

Is art the object or the action?
Both, for sure. As an artist, I put my emphasis on the action. The object is just a stepping-stone to the next piece.

What are you most compulsive about in life and why?
Marijuana is my compulsion. That's about it. I smoke because I find it is generally beneficial to my overall well-being. I overdo it sometimes though.

What's your daily routine?
Up at 8 or 9am. Bagel and decaf up the street. Bong hits and e-mail. Draw for a few hours. Go for a long bike ride and get some lunch. Draw for a few more hours. Afternoon bike ride. More drawing. Meet my girl for dinner. Hang out with her until I fall asleep.

Has the current political climate affected the subject matter of your work or the way in which you approach it?
America sucks right now. I can't help but comment on it. I'm so bummed about it that I'm leaving the country next year. I'm tired of fighting a corrupt system. Peace out.

What was your childhood like? Is it a great source of inspiration for your work?
I had a fairly normal upbringing. I spent the first 8 years of my life in upstate NY riding bikes and playing in snow. I really grew up in Albuquerque. My time in New Mexico has been really inspirational throughout my life, especially lately.

The modern art world has been rife with sudden success stories and young artists who are making hundreds of thousands of dollars in the span of a few years with no track record to back them up (Banksy comes to mind). As a young artist yourself, how has this trend affected your outlook on your career and/or your expectations of success?
I just draw. I don't pay attention to the art world's bullshit. It's a waste of time. As long as I'm drawing, everything else just works itself out.

Working in such a graphic style it would be easy for people to simply label your work as illustration. Do you consider your work to be fine art or are you comfortable with a more commercial tag? Is there a difference?
I don't make distinctions about my work. I concentrate with the same effort regardless of the medium I'm working in. My hand doesn't know the difference between "commercial" and "fine art".

Do you think mankind is becoming more violent as time goes on or is the media just amplifying that trait?
We've always been a warring species. The media just lets us know about it a lot more now. I consciously don't consume the news media because I think it often perpetuates the cycle of fear and suffering it reports.

As someone who communicates through a great use of symbols in your work, can you tell me a little about the ones that mean the most to you and why you use them in your art?
I like to use the "Con Safos" symbol in my work as an homage to my home culture in New Mexico. I use lots of other "cholo" symbolism because I have a deep respect for it and hope to keep it alive. I also use lots of Buddhist symbolism simply because it speaks from my heart better than words sometimes.

A distinct sense of spirituality is evident in your work, are you trying to communicate any particular message or sense of religious experience through your art?
In a lot of my drawings, I try to embody the teachings I've accumulated through various religious and philosophical practices. I have developed a much more beneficial way of interacting with the world because of these teachings, and I hope others may benefit from them through my art as well.

Merchandising has become an increasingly important aspect of modern artist's careers, from prints and T-Shirts to toys and custom shoes & cars. Do you think this has a negative effect on a fine art career in the long run? Does it cheapen an artist's work or vision? What influences your choices when working in a commercial sense?
For me, the medium is never the message. I use the same concentrated effort regardless of the medium, or intended audience. And, from my experience, the people that runs galleries are just as shady as corporate clients, so what's difference?

You're particularly renowned for your incredible lettering prowess. What have been your greatest influences in this arena and how did you hone your technique over the years?
My greatest lettering influences come from my home in New Mexico. I grew up reading beautiful cholo lettering in the back alleys near my house. Those letterforms really stuck with me. Of course, 18 years of writing graffiti myself certainly had a huge impact of my style as well.

Rick Griffin's artwork was godhead in reproduction, but close examination of his originals reveals great amounts of White Out and paper overlays to hide mistakes. As a technical artist working in the unforgiving medium of pen & ink, how dedicated to creating flawless work are you? Will you use correction fluid on your pieces or do you start over if you make a mistake? What is your process for rendering, from start to finish?
I attempt to ink every drawing straight through with no mistakes. If I make a mistake, I start over, or I don't sell it. Simple as that. For me, part of the point of making a flawless drawing is the physical practice of creating art in a state of deep concentration. I hope viewers can see and understand the focus I apply to my drawings.

What modern artists do you find most inspiring?
Usugrow, Charles Burns, Ed Hardy, Arnaud Alemany, Chris Ware, Mike Davis, Syliva Ji, Wes Lang, John Copeland, Joe King, and many more.

You're someone who works in a very technical and traditional medium at a time when loose, Pop-oriented work continually sells for higher prices than finely rendered figurative work and enjoys much greater popularity. Does this fact affect your outlook on your work? Do you ever feel discouraged?
I don't pay attention to the art market. I let my galleries deal with that shit. I'm a drawer, not a banker.

Are happy people liars?
I've met many people who are truly happy, and they are the most noble and honest people I've ever met.

If you weren't an artist, what would you be doing?
I'd have a day job and draw in my free time. >ST<

mikegiantfixy.jpg

mikegiantbikedetail.jpg

gal_artist_96_1939_bikegirl.jpg

mgu-13.jpg

gal_artist_96_1932_jesus_th.jpg

mgu-12.jpg

mgu-11.jpg

mgu-14.jpg

mgu-3.jpg

img_7375.jpg

gal_artist_96.jpg

gal_artist_96_1962_mikedeck.jpg

img_7458.jpg

gal_artist_96_1930_8fold_path_thumb.jpg

mgu-2.jpg

mikegiantclown.jpg

mgu-10.jpg

mgu-1.jpg


Share via emailShare on TumblrSubmit to reddit


Comments are closed.