Decoding “Modern Hieroglyphics” With Mike Giant
A one-on-one lesson in symbol demystification.
Photos Amy Harrity
It’s been a minute since formerly San Francisco-based chief rocker and artist/instigator Mike Giant put on a solo exhibition for the Bay Area. However, he recently broke the spell on February 7th with his “Modern Hieroglyphics” show over at the Fecal Face Dot Gallery (FFDG) located in the Mission district of Frisco. It featured over 60 sheets of hand-drawn/digitally prepped illustrations and one giant paint-marker mural. The theme behind this latest body of work is his foray into the depths of iconic and codified imagery – the symbols that Mike feels will one day become the “hieroglyphics” of this era of civilization.
Mike Giant x FFDG “Hieroglyphics” Print
To coincide with the show, FFDG released a super-limited (and unfortunately, already sold out) run of prints that feature a curated array of “hieroglyphics” from the show. Mass Appeal reached out to Mr. Giant and had a genuine conversation about what a ton of the images mean to him and his whole thought process behind the show was.
Here’s what we decoded together:
Gibson Girls/Ziegfeld Follies
Mass Appeal: Tell me about the girl in the middle.
Mike Giant: I’ve tattooed that one in a different form. They were from the 1910s and ‘20s. Charles Dana Gibson is the name of the artist. It was the “definitive” American girl of that time. There was also David Ziegfeld Follies. Photographs of those girls became the reference material for the early tattoo designs that are really common today. The profile girls of the 1940s, those really came from the era before. So I like to go back to that same era myself and start over and reinterpret the classics. A common mistake in tattooing is to copy a tattoo in a magazine not knowing at all if the tattoo was done properly and a lot of time, tattooers will continue to keep tradition alive by copying terrible “originals” that have been changed over time. So I try to go all the way back and start there and I feel like I get a better result. I like it better.
MA: I see a lot of Native American symbols. What are those?
MG: That’s just my background from New Mexico. That stuff’s always stood out to me and I’ve always loved the meaning in those simple symbols. There’s also some Tibetan conture symbols in there that certainly look like that could be Native American. I think that’s the point, that they do have common origins. There’s the triangle within the triangle. Even that one could be from different cultures.
Tom of Finland Man
MG: I think he’s really awesome. It’s super gay, but I really don’t mind at all. It’s just so fresh.
The Terminator & Friends
MG: It’s just an iconic American thing. I try to intentionally mix things up from different eras because I think that’s a very American and modern thing to do. An audio tape, an old wizard tattoo, and a Japanese mask next to a Master Lock, I love that! It’s also reminiscent to me of Tumblr. This loose association of things, one after the other. That was really inspiring to me in a subconscious way. It’s funny like that – ideas that cross-pollinate. Even how something like social media and technology can infiltrate how I lay out a drawing. It’s pretty fascinating
MA: What’s up with the gorilla?
MG: That, to me, is a beautiful form, simply. It’s so black. It’s not even something I’ve seen as a classic tattoo thing, but I sure would like to tattoo it. I think it’s got that potential for sure. Just as much as the little cat next to it. That’s a fucking cool design too!
MA: Tell me about the camera down bottom.
MG: I love that camera. I was gonna get that tattooed on me too. I’ve spray-painted and smashed so many cameras over the years and given them a nice “fuck you” after I’ve done some graffiti. I love that little icon. It’s the one I’ve seen most commonly on surveillance signs that let you know that you’re being taped. The “San Francisco” that’s just below it came out of an old Teen Angels Magazine. I think it was for a San Francisco t-shirt shop, it was their logo. It must’ve been from the late 70s or something like that. I just cleaned it up a little bit. That’s another one that I wouldn’t mind getting on myself.
MA: What’s the wavy symbol all the way on the middle left?
MG: That’s the bus line in San Francisco. That’s their old logo. I think it’s from the ’70s but they still use it. The “SF” is the old 49ers logo.
MA: Is that a tooth?
MG: That’s a deer hoof.
MG: See what it is now?
I love that even you, you’re getting sucked in. Like, “what the fuck is it, what could it be?” and then somebody tells you and you’re like “oh, of course that’s what it is!”
With a lot of these I just took the elements that I’d want and just sit in Photoshop and move them around, resize them, and move them until it starts to feel right. I’ll even do that from the sketch page too. I’ll find elements and I’ll scan them into the computer and create that loose collage and then I’ll go in with a clean sheet of paper and ink it all up – fresh. It’s a fun process. I enjoy these and I can’t stop. I said I was going to stop, but I keep finding cool things to include so I just continue to keep doing it. I might just do another Modern Hieroglyphics show next year at the same gallery.
Even as an artist I’m just trying to hold people’s attention and stuff like this sucks you in. You can have this up in your house and you’ll notice something new about it for a while before it becomes peripheral imagery that you don’t even notice. And on the originals too I add a lot of notes in pencil. That’s another device to really pull the viewers in. There’s this whole other storyline there too. I’ll mention what I had to eat that day. What I’m listening to. Little rants. Things about what it’s like living in LA.
If you want to see the originals go to ffdg.net and zoom in on them. For the people that really want to go ape shit!
Fans in the San Francisco area that are interested in seeing Mike’s work in person should make it a priority to visit the Fecal Face Dot Gallery (2277 Mission Street) before this Saturday, March 8th, the last showing day of the “Modern Hieroglyphics” exhibition.
And for folks that may not be as lucky, you can still log onto ffdg.net and check out the multitude of “Modern Hieroglyohic” prints from the show, complete with every single one of Mr. Giant’s personal penciled notes.