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Posts Tagged ‘pittsburgh’

Photo: Matt Nemeth for WESA, Pittsburgh’s NPR station
Former football player Baron Batch reinvented himself as a street artist.

I enjoyed this story from the sports radio show Only a Game about a former football player who became an accomplished street artist. Sarah Kovash reported.

“It wasn’t until after Baron Batch left the NFL that he attracted the attention of the Pittsburgh police department. … It was while riding his bike along one of Pittsburgh’s riverfront trails that he stopped to spray paint a message.

” ‘You know, I just got so comfortable with painting on things outside,’ Batch says. ‘Like, I just was riding my bike and just tagged the trail.’ He didn’t stop there.

” ‘I had this tag that said “all your scars are lovely” down by the wharf. That’s where I like ride my bike, and I always get off my bike there and stretch my ankle. I have no cartilage in my ankle. It’s just grinding bones. I deal with chronic pain every single day. So, at that spot, you know, I was riding one day and stretching. And that hit me. Like, all your scars are lovely.’ …

“Batch started his company, Studio AM, about a year after leaving the Steelers. Young Pittsburgh residents took notice and began sharing his work on social media. Batch relished the attention.

“He started doing what he calls ‘art drops,’ where he would leave one of his paintings in a public area and post its location on social media — free to the first person who could find it. …

“He turned his studio — located in the Pittsburgh-adjacent, Rust-Belt town of Homestead — into a brunch venue and gallery. On Sundays, visitors eat fruit-covered french toast and savory rice dishes while chatting with the artist. It’s not the same crowd you’d find at a Steelers tailgate.

“Last year, Batch was commissioned for a mural project. He created 20 pieces throughout the city, mostly on the sides of buildings. …

“As Batch spent more time on outdoor murals, he moved from the surfaces he had permission to paint to … some he didn’t. …

“He painted other colorful messages — some on a bridge and a parking lot. It never occurred to him that he was breaking the law. …

“Batch was creating some of the most inspired art of his career, but his project was quickly halted when the police showed up. …

“In all, police said Batch caused more than $16,000 worth of damage. They charged him with 30 counts of criminal mischief. …

“Batch had to pay $30,000 in fines and legal fees. But he says his arrest also led to a much needed discussion about public art.

“Part of that conversation was with the Friends of the Riverfront. That’s the group that manages the trail Batch graffitied. The group gave Batch permission to paint a section of the trail that’s lined with concrete barriers.”

And it turned out that the arresting officer, Detective Alphonso Sloan of the Pittsburgh police graffiti squad, had empathy for Batch. He told the ex-football player, ” ‘Hey, I admire your artwork. Even though some of it’s, you know, it’s illegal.’

” ‘[He] said “OK, I’m an artist, and you’re an artist. How about we get together sometime?” We worked on several projects.’ …

“Detective Sloan hopes Batch doesn’t test the city’s graffiti laws again.

” ‘[I’m] hoping it’s just a one-time thing because I hate to arrest someone … you get to work with them and you actually like them.’ ”

More at Only a Game, here.

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I heard about poet Terrance Hayes on the radio show Studio 360. He is the winner of a MacArthur Fellowship, among other honors, and a University of Pittsburgh writing professor. Kurt Andersen interviewed him.

“Hayes grew up in South Carolina, where he was one of the only black students at a very preppy high school. But he says that race didn’t define him as a kid. ‘I was a basketball player, and I ran track, and I was a visual artist.’

“With all his accolades, invisibility hasn’t been too much of an issue for Hayes. But as a theme, it’s certainly present in his work. His poem ‘How to Draw an Invisible Man’ plays with Ralph Ellison’s take on black invisibility in the eyes of white society. ‘The thing that I’ve decided is, I don’t want to be invisible, but I’d like to be transparent. I want people to see what I’m thinking and see through me,’ he says. ‘I’m about 6’6’’. You know, I don’t have trouble walking into a room. I would prefer to be more invisible, in fact, than I am.’ ”

Listen to the interview at Studio 360. And read a review by Jonathan Farmer, at Slate, of his latest book of poems.

Photo: Becky Thurner Braddock
Poet Terrance Hayes. His new book of poems is called How to Be Drawn.

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Asakiyume writes a blog I enjoy a lot, and this week she had an intriguing post on Jackie Ormes, generally considered the first female African American cartoonist. See examples of work by Ormes at Asakiyume’s blog, here.

According to wikipedia, Ormes (1911 to 1985), “started in journalism as a proofreader for the Pittsburgh Courier, a weekly African American newspaper that came out every Saturday. Her 1937-38 Courier comic strip, Torchy Brown in Dixie to Harlem, starring Torchy Brown, was a humorous depiction of a Mississippi teen who found fame and fortune singing and dancing in the Cotton Club.”

The strip waxed and waned as Ormes pursued her many career interests, bur she always returned to Torchy.

“In 1950, the Courier began an eight-page color comics insert, where Ormes re-invented her Torchy character in a new comic strip, Torchy in Heartbeats. This Torchy was a beautiful, independent woman who finds adventure while seeking true love. …  The strip is probably best known for its last episode in 1954, when Torchy and her doctor boyfriend confront racism and environmental pollution. Torchy presented an image of a black woman who, in contrast to the contemporary stereotypical media portrayals, was confident, intelligent, and brave.”

Being a cartoonist seems harder than writing a blog. You not only need to find daily topics that interest you enough to dwell on, but you have to encapsulate them in a piece of art. Asakiyume sometimes illustrates her posts, but art is one thing you won’t find me doing here. (Unless maybe a collage.)

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