A line of about 100 people stood before a man with thick-framed glasses and tattoos from knuckles to jaw.
Internationally famed artist Mike “Giant” Lesage came home to Albuquerque to hundreds of supportive friends and excited fans on Sunday.
Known around the world for his Sharpie art, Lesage wears the role of local hero humbly, and took time to speak with each person who came to the impromptu homecoming party at McDuffie Park.
“Not too many people in popular culture rep ’Burque like I do, so it feels great to get that love back from the locals,” he said.
Cameron Crow, a UNM graduate and Sharpie artist, said he came to the party meet a fellow artist he admires.
“We’re proud that Giant is from here and that someone could take influences from our culture. He definitely represents a part of Albuquerque culture,” he said.
Lesage said his distinct artistic style of graphic black and white Sharpie illustrations, unique lettering and large wall pieces has roots to his childhood in Albuquerque — skateboarding, the thriving hip-hop scene, punk rock music and flyers.
“I must have leaked gallons of blood on Albuquerque’s ditches over the years,” he said. “I skated them every single day until I moved to San Francisco in 1993.”
The first thing Lesage said inspired him, for better or for worse, was the Albuquerque gang scene. He stood out as a tall white kid from upstate New York and said he was the target of almost daily beatings from the neighborhood kids.
He said he noticed early on that the only people his attackers respected, their older brothers, cousins and fathers, had fine-line black and grey tattoos. He said that those tattoos made a huge impression on him, physically, emotionally and visually.
“I covered myself in tattoos like those worn by my oppressors, somehow negating the bad associations they had and playing up the good,” he said. “I’m quite proud to rep them on my arms now. When I travel around the world people always ask me about my tattoos and it gives me an opportunity to vocalize my love for New Mexico again and again.”
Lesage said he began writing graffiti in Albuquerque in 1989, when two veteran graffiti artists took him under their wings.
“They taught me all the ins and outs of the international graffiti scene,” he said. “We found places all over Albuquerque to practice our vocation.”
Lesage and his business partner, Josh “Joshy” D, created REBEL 8 clothing and apparel in 2003, according to the company website. References to New Mexican culture are frequently found in Lesage’s clothing line – from cholas with ‘Burque’ and Zia symbol tattoos to Catholic imagery.
D, who came to visit Albuquerque with Lesage, said he finds inspiration through the stories Lesage tells about life in New Mexico.
“We went to UNM today and (Lesage) points to the architecture building, he points to the dorm room where he lost his virginity,” he said. “We got a chance to hear all the stories. That is what I can pull from Albuquerque inspirationally as much as anything else.”
Lesage said his years spent in Albuquerque were vastly influential to him, both personally and artistically.
“New Mexico is such a huge part of who I am, as a man, and artist and an American,” he said. “I can’t imagine life without it.”