Interview: Gavin Godfrey
As the story goes, Greg Mike almost died.
“All I know is I woke up the next morning in a pool of blood,” Greg Mike tells me. “this tooth was like chipped and I guess I fell straight off and smacked my head on a bar. There’s still a crack in my skull from it.”
And that my friend is how Greg Mike got the inspiration behind his signature piece, Mr. Loudmouf. The artist, former skater, fashion designer and man behind Atlanta’s ABV Gallery is sitting at his desk in the workspace he built from the ground up. He says that night he was getting wasted in Tallahassee where he was in school, he fell off of a 7-foot loft attempting to walk to the bathroom. It was this experience that changed him forever and the art created along the way is a product of his being thankful to be alive.
“This shit is precious and that could have been it,” he says. “Every time I see that it’s like a re- minder and that’s kind of why it stuck.”
The kid from Connecticut and I kicked back a few PBR’s and got right to it.
And coming up in Connecticut, was art your very first passion?
My passion’s always been art. My dad has done a lot of work with scenery in Broadway, so it was easy for me to get in and see that whole visual aspect and design. That was kind of like the first thing that really influenced me, just seeing scenery and set design, even like scenic designer and painters. It was nice because when I was growing up my pops had a nice arsenal and stash of spray paint and paint and all of that kind of was at my disposal. When I would tell him I’d be working for him I’d really be out back, spray painting on plywood. I didn’t know what I was doing at that time but it was kind of like the process of it I enjoyed. I was taking a lot of trips to New York City and I’d be peering out the windows of the train on the way down and that’s when I fell in love with like the graffiti aspect. I was 9-years-old when I got really hooked and there was nothing else that like excited me like that.
What was it about that you think drew you in?
Going through school you learn to oil paint, taking art classes and what not. I started skateboarding, so like all those cultures clashed together and it was like you’re able to do art and it was rebellious and exciting and there were a lot of other elements in it. I think that’s what really got me hooked and addicted was the rebellious aspect of it and the not give a fuck attitude and like it wasn’t just sitting in your studio and oil painting, it was like going out hopping fences and going through train yards and staying up past your curfew and getting in trouble and hanging out with your friends while creating.
What brought you to Atlanta and what were your first impressions?
Well I first started going because I was going to school in Tallahassee at Florida State. Tallahassee’s a very small city. We kind of hit the ceiling on that city pretty quick other than the party scene. I don’t think you could hit the ceiling on that. But for the creative aspect there’s only so many galleries, so many boutiques that are selling clothing that are in the contemporary market, so we were naturally like what’s the biggest city close by which was Atlanta, so on the weekend we would pack up our bags, me and my business partners at the time, and just come to Atlanta and hit the city and network and meet boutique owners, gallery owners because the social scene was massive. It’s still very big, but this is back when you could party till four or five in the morning up in Buckhead and it was cool. Our memories were that, like going downtown to The Mark and hanging out down there with Pablo and all these guys and going up to Buckhead when the streets were alive up there and people were just hanging out on the streets and networking. We just came up here really to get more involved with the culture and the scene and be part of the city. We had a denim line at the time so we were doing a lot of events up here with different boutique owners, everyone from Bill Hallman to Blue Genes and that whole scene, so we got involved in that. That’s kind of how I implanted my feet here and it was kind of one of those things that happened naturally.
Why stay here? Why is it important to build your brand in Atlanta?
For me, it’s always been like I love traveling, but I love coming back here because I’m able to focus. When I’m in these other cities, my mind is in 50,000 places at once. I feel like Atlanta, it allows me to get in my zone, get in my bubble and be able to focus and create. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t want to expand to another market. I think it is natural to expand and not limit yourself, but if that ever does happen I would want to keep what we built here. I noticed that a lot of people kind of get up and then shut down its like, “Oh that was great for the city.” They put in there time and then poof, they’re gone. You know a lot of great talent comes out of here, but then they move on. We’ve been fortunate enough where we’ve seen a huge growth in the scene locally too where we support a ton of artists now that have grown with us and we have grown with them and we’ve supported them. A lot of the projects we do for the agency we’re utilizing a lot of these artists locally. That’s kind of like the whole thing with ABV that I’ve been trying to build it’s really a way for everything to work together.
Who is Greg Mike?
I definitely wear a lot of hats, so some people know me as certain things. People naturally when they know that you do or see that you do one thing they think that’s all you do. I’ve
had people that’ll come up to me and be like, “Oh you started Sloppy Seconds with Caleb Gage, right?” And I’m like yea and they’re like, “I didn’t know you did art I thought you were just that crazy dude that yells on the microphone and hyped up the party.” I was like dude that’s what I do on my off time when I’m trying to release some steam. I’m just going to continue following my path and do what my passion is. Like I said I just try to keep it organic, so it’s like let the growth be natural. It’s like some people know me from the design days of when I had the denim line from people who know when I used to run trade shows and do creative direction work and so everyone’s probably got a different idea on what it is. You know it takes a while with anything to really know what you’re really supposed to be doing and what your true calling is in life and I feel like now after going through all of these things and ironing out what I liked and what I didn’t like and finally finding my true passion, that’s where I’m at now and that’s where I’m going to stay. I’ll be doing it till I die.
What do and don’t you like about what you see in Atlanta’s art scene?
I definitely wish there was more galleries and more collectors. I think that’s one thing that does lack in our city in terms of New York and L.A. There are definitely more collectors that do collect and are willing to spend and understand the investment side of artwork. A lot of people I feel like just look at art as something pretty to hang on your wall versus understanding the history and the movement of a culture and how important it is and how valuable the actual pieces are that are being created by these artists. You go to New York and L.A., it’s a positive and negative, because there are people in L.A. who collect art just for the sake of investment and I talk to them about the beauty of the art and they’re like, “Oh yea I only bought that Brainwash because I know I can flip it and make $50K on it.” It’s good because it’s pure, in Atlanta people do look at it for the pure beauty of it but I think from a collectors standpoint it would help a lot of the artists because I do hear a lot of artists that are trying to make it as fine artists complaining about the scene of collectors here for the contemporary market. I mean when you go to Buckhead there are people that are buying the more abstract and more landscape-esque type pieces because they know it looks good in their house, but they’re not collecting for the sake of collecting and building a collection of art to cherish and hold and later on pass it down to their kids.
You’ve said you can’t live without, “creativity, freedom and youth.” We all get older but how do we maintain the youth?
Somebody that really inspired me, Benny Gold, he has this whole motto, “Stay gold, stay young.” He still skates everyday or as much as he can, but it’s like doing things like that. You might be old, your body might be old, but as long as you keep your mind young you’re going to stay creative, you’re going to stay fresh and you’re going to stay on top of your game. The minute you get lazy and stop doing those things you love whether it is drawing or whether it is going to see concerts or listening to deejays or skating that’s the minute you die in my eyes. When you stop doing what you love that’s the minute you die. I could never just do something because I had to. I’d rather starve and die then die mentally because I have to do something I don’t like or love.