By Christopher Ward, Point Park News Service:
Growing up in West Texas, where high school football is a top priority, Baron Batch knew that playing the game was a given – but deep down inside he always knew that he wanted to be an artist, too.
As a kid, Batch had a speech impediment where he couldn’t say the letter R, so he would say “Bawon,” instead of saying Baron when telling people his name.
“I was just a very quiet kid and very observational,” Batch said. “During that time I would always write and draw. It was something that could be me. With me, myself inside my head.”
“Over time the speech impediment faded away, but what that experience in life gave me was not only an affinity to silence but a great familiarity with speaking less as I observed more,” Batch wrote on his personal website. “Because of that I’ve always been an observer of things and I think in a way my quest to learn to say my own name correctly is what first made me an artist, because that is what forced me to learn what it means to truly observe.”
When playing football at Midland Senior High School and Texas Tech, Batch was always exercising his creative talents – whether it was writing, sketching, journaling, drawing, photography or video.
Batch was drafted as a running back by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the seventh round of the 2011 NFL Draft.
“I started painting when I got to Pittsburgh, pretty much before I even really played football,” Batch said.
A torn ACL during training camp practice would give Batch more time to work on his art.
“When I tore my ACL, I had more time available,” Batch said. “I couldn’t move around and do anything because my ACL was torn and I had to stay off it. During that time I needed something to work at and that’s really when I started to paint and got back to focusing on creating art.”
After retiring from football in 2013, Batch said football didn’t have as much meaning to him anymore.
“It’s like okay, I played in the National Football League,” Batch said. “I got some yards. I got tackled and I got hurt. When you really break that down, like how purposeful is that? I was someone else’s entertainment. I was a distraction for something that someone was supposed to be doing.”
Post-football, Batch became a full-time artist and has painted numerous murals around the city that have brought meaning into his life.
However, the city wasn’t pleased with tags by Batch that were placed on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail and other locations in the city. The tags on the trail included an elephant, a signature tag by Batch, an eye symbol and upbeat positive sayings.
Pittsburgh police charged Batch with 30 counts of criminal mischief, saying he left graffiti on and along the trail.
Batch says the general public is misinformed on the meaning of graffiti and the message that he was trying to send.
“It’s a foreign thing that a lot of people don’t understand,” he said. “As much as I try to understand my thoughtfulness of it, it’s naïve to think that someone would understand, when they don’t even know what I am thinking about.”
Batch says there are two sides to the view of graffiti. There is the side that the general public is misinformed about all the goodness that comes from art. And then on the other side, artists are disconnected in a way graffiti-wise.
“The graffiti that people don’t like typically isn’t very thoughtful, it isn’t very inspiring and it isn’t very desiring visually,” Batch said. “So when you make [bad] art, people have the right to not like it.”
Batch said his graffiti tags are all about being positive and inspirational.
“Inserting public art literally makes people behavior better,” Batch said. “Behavior and attitude, that’s what shapes society. To have uplifting and positive artwork in the city where people go by it everyday is a very important thing. It speaks very clearly to the attitude and culture of the city. It’s a sign of a strong community.”
The tags that Batch put on the trail have been painted over, but they are still living, according to Batch.
“They never went anywhere, they just got painted over,” Batch said. “That’s the thing with inspiration. You can’t cover it up. You can’t erase it. It just jumps into somebody’s behavior and expresses itself through other inspirations.”
Batch received an email from a man who said that he got a tattoo on his leg that quoted one of Batch’s tags. The tattoo said, “All your scars are lovely.” That saying crossed Batch’s mind when he was riding his bike on the trail and was thinking about his football injuries that he suffered.
“He emailed me that he was jogging and he saw the tag, and he was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s totally my approach to life,’” Batch said. “It inspired him so much that he got a tattoo with the saying on his calf, along with little elephants and the look of my art. The cool thing about it is that this guy is 55 years old and never had a tattoo before.”
The signature elephant design that’s showcased in a lot of Batch’s work stems from National Geographic magazines that were given to him as a child by his mom.
“Growing up in West Texas, literally the middle of nowhere. My perspective of the world was what I could see the environment around me,” Batch said. “The only time that I saw animals like elephants and bears and things like that would have been in Disney movies.”
While flipping through the pages in the National Geographic magazines, Batch would realize that the world is so much bigger than just West Texas.
“This was my first realization of how big the world was,” Batch said. “I didn’t know about these places or animals, and that’s what really attributes to the elephant. It’s also, a memory that is tied closely to my mom: She gave me those magazines. And she was the one that always said, ‘You can do whatever you want.’”
Batch couldn’t hang his hat on just being an ex-Steeler. He is currently the creative director and co-owner of Studio A.M. in Homestead.
“I could have just chalked it up and been that ex-football player,” Batch said. “But that’s not how it works. I say who I am and I will show you. And that’s why I stayed in Pittsburgh.”