Local Pittsburgh artist Baron Batch is a bright light in his community, gracing the city with his multidimensional, inspiring work that blossoms in color. Batch self-describes his art as residing in the POP-X genre — a mix of pop and expressionism, reminiscent of street-art styles developed in the ’70s and ’80s.
There’s a certain charm in Batch’s work that reminds many of legendary Pittsburgh artist Andy Warhol, but Warhol is only one of Batch’s artistic heroes. Others include Banksy for his rule-breaking as well as Dr. Seuss for his poetic narratives. Batch draws on inspiration from these artistic legends while injecting his own brilliant style into his masterpieces.
Baron Batch originally moved to Pittsburgh in 2011, when he was drafted into the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he originally played for Texas Tech University where he was the school’s eighth-ranked, all-time rushing leader.
Batch tore his ACL and was out for the whole 2012 season; while he worked on rehabbing his knee, he occupied himself with painting, something he had never done before. He instantly fell in love with the way painting challenged him, required constant innovation, demanded creativity and allowed him to use his platform to inspire others.
In 2013, Batch was cut from the Steelers and decided to retire to pursue his true passion: art.
When Batch first came to the city, he frequented Big Dog Coffee, the local South Side café, where he decided to approach the owners about painting some works for their shop. When they agreed, Batch dove right in.
As Batch notes on his blog, “Immediately I left that conversation and took a quick walk through the coffee shop to assess wall size and went and purchased all the canvas and other supplies. I then returned to my attic where I worked for 72 straight hours to complete the nine pieces of art.” His masterful artwork filled Big Dog Coffee with colorful charm, and it immediately situated Batch as an artist to be reckoned with.
Since his big break, Batch has taken his work to the streets, lighting up the drab, gray Pittsburgh roads with bursts of color and inspirational quotes. Batch was inspired to pick up street art by a trip to Miami, where previously barren building walls are dotted with murals. As soon as he returned to Pittsburgh, Batch took his art in a new direction —muralism— by tagging an old, abandoned South Side building with the motivational quote, “Change your thoughts to change your star an open mind is open bars.”
This first act of public beautification sparked Batch’s love for muralism. Always seeking to advance his craft, he decided to start a massive undertaking with his 20 Murals Project. This operation aspired to spice up the decrepit, drab garage doors scattered throughout his local neighborhood — South Side — with graffiti-style elephant and butterfly portraits, along with interspersed inspirational quotes.
Some quotes that Batch frequently marks his work with include, “You are made for amazing things” and, “Fall in love with being alive.” Along with his artwork comes his elusive signature tag: an eye.
Alongside his signature trademarks, Batch is also known for his art drops, where he leaves one of his pieces of artwork in a public place and posts about it on his social media. As Batch explains, “It is a spontaneous scavenger hunt situation where a piece of art is hidden somewhere with a clue to where it is — finders keepers. They also happen without clues [on occasion] where people may just discover them on a walk or something like that. But the concept of what an ‘art drop’ is and what it can be will be expanding greatly this year to other countries and cities all over the world.” These pieces are free to the first person who finds them, and they are labeled as such: “FREE.”
Muralist art, as uplifting as it is, can often have legal ramifications; Batch is no stranger to this hard reality. In June of 2016, detectives showed up at Batch’s home with 38 counts of criminal mischief against him, along with estimated damages of $16,200 for spicing up Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Heritage Trail with his artwork.
It didn’t take long for members of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Graffiti Task Force to figure out that Batch was behind the ubiquitous elephant and open eye spray paint that scattered the trails. The interspersed words and phrases were also distinctly Batch’s. A stylized “FREE” appeared throughout, along with phrases like, “Change your thoughts to change your stars an open mind is open bars” over his single eye signature. Batch also took a Dr. Seuss approach, writing, “Go” then “Pass Go!” on the bike trail.
Batch notes how his encouraging and inspirational art was used by the police as incriminating evidence, but he didn’t let the arrest and the damages stop him from sharing his passion with the world. Rather, he was determined to find new ways to distribute his work to the masses as he had in the past, with his “FREE” art drops and his personalized studio visits.
Ultimately, like everything in his life, Batch saw his arrest as a moment for growth, noting that he wouldn’t apologize for trying to inspire people, because the overarching goal of an artist is to “have their art seen.” Batch accepted the consequences, and he even inspired his arresting officer to create a mural with him alongside Pittsburgh youths.
Batch called Pittsburgh a “big, small town” that needs to rethink how it views art in the public sphere. In Batch’s mind, his artwork is there to unite a community, facilitate development and increase the growth of art culture in Pittsburgh. Batch ultimately feels that advancing his message is worth breaking the rules sometimes.
Batch’s distinct and risqué artistic style, as well as his Dr. Seuss-ian poetic proverbs, have fostered an increasing appreciation for art culture within the city of Pittsburgh. He has brightened the drab streets of Pittsburgh and become an acclaimed inspiration for tens of thousands of individuals. Batch also begs the question: What will the future of art look like? Will a world ever exist where passionate muralists can create without fear of criminal ramifications?
In conclusion, Batch is a shining example of a modern artist who combines artistic styles of the past with niche, ingenious flair and revolutionary intentions. Batch is an artist who creates to change the world, creates to inspire and creates to unify.