By Liz Petoniak / Photographs by Michael Fornataro / Art Direction by Jason Solak
Giving new meaning to the phrase “rise and shine,” artist Baron Batch radiates creativity, positivity, and soul, inspiring Pittsburgh through his original artwork. His pieces — colorful, textured, and extremely expressive — have captured the eyes of many. He’s refined a style of painting that’s all his own, and the former NFL player is constantly on his grind. Upcoming ventures include a collaboration with Dona Jo Fitwear; a community awareness project with Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank; and art installations at Propel Schools, Pittsburgh International Airport, and our very own WHIRL Yoga Fest on July 25. We’re not sure if he ever sleeps. Yet, ever-humble, Batch stresses the greatness of the team that surrounds him, saying that he “couldn’t do it all without them.” The team he’s referring to, of course, resides at Studio AM in Homestead, which also happens to be Batch’s home. Equal parts gallery, creative agency, restaurant, and collaborative space, there’s nothing else like it in Pittsburgh. We headed to the artist’s lively digs to pick Batch’s brain on everything from his hustle to Homestead’s revival.
How did you first begin painting?
Baron Batch: When I was really young, I realized I didn’t want to have a ‘job’ or work for anyone else. In the summers, I would work for my dad, who managed a road construction crew, and it was hard work. My brothers were there this one night, and we were working from 7 to 7. It was in New Orleans, so it was grueling hot. The next day, I just quit. I looked at everyone and said, ‘I’m sorry, I just don’t want to do this.’ I remember that day, making my mind up that I would only pursue the things that I want to do. If there’s something that I don’t want to do, I only do it if its necessary for me to get closer to the thing I do want to do. I was brought here [to Pittsburgh] to play football, and I tore my ACL. I was always creative, and the first thing I wanted to be when I was growing up was an artist. But, I could never really afford paint and some of the materials. Supplies are expensive! But, once I tore my ACL, I started painting.
How has your artistry developed since then?
BB: It’s developed as my story has. I don’t make things for the sake of making things. I make things to tell my story. I think that’s important because at the end of the day, when I’m gone, that’s what’s going to be here. And, I want it to be my own story, in my words and my perspective of how I wanted to do it. It’s an evolution and a constant thing. Next year, my art will be the same, but different, because I will be in a different spot in my life.
Where do you find your inspiration and drive?
BB: I get inspired very rarely. I’m not somebody who’s just always inspired. I get inspired moments, where it’s a moment of realization. And then a whole bunch of stuff changes. Every piece is a challenge to say something. I always think of inspiration like this: you can have a ship with a hole in it, and it leaks water. Then, at some point, your inspiration is done and you gotta recharge, you gotta get a new ship. My motivation is that I’ve gotten to this cool place in this city, in this particular period of time in history, where I am in the position to influence culture with my work, where what I say and what I get to do will matter and be remembered. So, what I want to do is make things better around me. I want to inspire people to be artists in their own right. Maybe it’s not painting. Maybe it’s writing, being a teacher, or being a parent. There’s art in everything, you know? And that’s the message that I’m trying to get across. Once you see the art in everything, you’ll be happy with what you do.
How do you define art?
BB: Art is the ability to live a life of freedom based off your individuality, based off the things that no one can do but you. It’s being able to turn that into a force that propels you through life and just live this epic adventure. My art is the fuel that lets me live the dopest f—ing life ever. And, I love it. At the same time, I am a slave to my art. But it’s OK to be a slave to the thing that gives you freedom. I approach it that way, and I take it very seriously.
Who are your favorite artists?
BB: The artists that I’ve studied the most are Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Warhol, Dr. Seuss, and Banksy. For me, it’s not so much studying an artist’s work. I respect it; I’m not an art critic. What’s more intriguing is how other artists approached art and their work, and why they did certain things. You learn a lot about just art in general when you study art history. Understanding that allows you to understand where you’re at in your particular time period and what you need to do.
How did the concept of Studio AM develop?
BB: I think everyone wants a place like this — a place where I can put all my cool s— that I’ve collected throughout my life. But, business-wise, you do have to make money to sustain [laughs]. Me and my business partner John [Malecki] started this knowing what we didn’t want. I don’t want to be a slave to a schedule, and we both played football, which is the most structured, scheduled thing you could ever imagine. From there, it was just a matter of working hard, being creative, and executing. At that point, it’s just like athletics. Running a business is very similar. It’s execution, team building, leadership, mentorship, accountability. As long as you don’t put yourself in front of your goal or get your ego involved, you can always problem solve if you have people that are working toward the same thing.
BB: Initially, there was a restaurant here [Smoke Barbecue Tacqueria] that I used to eat at. It was a nice little escape because at the time, I was playing [football], and I could come here and no one knew me. I fell in love with the space and when they moved locations, it was kind of just a no-brainer for me. It was this crazy bold move. I realized there was part of me that was reluctant because I knew what Homestead was and I knew what people said about it. But at the same time, I felt like doing that was the way I could create one of greatest stories ever told. It made it a lot easier to have John [Malecki] on board, to know that I wasn’t going into this alone. So, now we’re here and Homestead is blooming and it’s one of the coolest things ever. The crazy thing is that there were businesses on the avenue — what it needed was just attention. By no means have I been the person solely changing Homestead. No one individual can do that. But, it’s very cool to have an important role and responsibility. Now, Dorothy 6 [Blast Furnace Café] across the street is killing it, you got Tin Front [Café], and on the weekend, it’s actually like a business avenue. And, it hasn’t been like that in 40 years.
Do you have any advice for those trying to break into a creative field?
BB: Spend time creating. When you’re creative, your capital is your time. It’s all you have. You can turn it into money, but at the end of the day, you need your time. Look at where you’re spending it and cut out the things that don’t benefit you at all. I’m always working on that. I don’t watch TV anymore, and it’s like getting hours back. The most important thing is to get to know yourself, know what you really want to do, know what you’re good at, and know your own value. Once you know your own value, I wouldn’t say it’s easy. This is not an easy life. It’s like the hardest life ever because your certainty is always being uncertain. And you have to be OK with just living that way, like you have no idea what could happen tomorrow.