I have always loved coffee shops. To me they are one of the few places that remain where people can simply be themselves. Every place I’ve ever lived in I have found it paramount within my routine to build in a coffee shop. I think largely I enjoy coffee shops so much because they are places where multiple realities in the form of consistent and thought out routines intersect on schedule, at the same time, just as the clock works. You see familiar faces and familiar people all the while knowing that at any point in time within the realm of the coffee shop, what is happening are authentic slices of people and the lives that they are living.
When I was a child I couldn’t pronounce the letter “R”, my speech impediment made them sound like “W’s” resulting in me lacking the ability to introduce myself by my own name. Instead of “Baron”, it would be “Bawon”. I remember how much I hated when adults thought that my speech impediment was cute, but quickly learned that acting out on that never benefited me. 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, and 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. Strangely enough It was the inability to introduce myself that gave me my way with words. I remember my mom explaining to me that she named me Baron because a Baron is a King and the name is a form of nobility, and because of that it wasn’t so much the words I couldn’t say, but how I used the words that I could that mattered most. looking retrospectively from the vantage point I have now, I understand the blessing in learning from a young age the importance of thinking about what I said before I said it and why I chose every word.
As life would have it a series of perfect imperfections and through the eyes of most a collective jumble of terrible things opened the door to the possibility of me arriving in a place called Pittsburgh. In a way life has not slowed down one moment for me to feel secure or comfortable since the days where I was unable to pronounce my own name. I know things are very different right now but because of those days I am still very much the exact same person, and that is a meticulous observer and a wordsmith of sorts, and that is why as my life has advanced I’ve always found it to benefit me to build in a coffee shop. They allow me to observe while I think and hear myself listen.
When I first got to Pittsburgh Big Dog coffee became my coffee shop. This was when I was still playing football, and before anyone knew me as an artist here and the only recognition that was attached to my name, Baron Batch, was a jersey number, a position, and statistics. Pittsburgh is a sports crazed town and because of that people’s perception of me was not what I actually was. These are the things that you don’t think about when you want to be a football star.
But a star simply is a star.
During my first few years in Pittsburgh it slowly drained me to exist in a city where I was well known but couldn’t truly be myself, but Big Dog coffee became my fortress of solitude, the place where no one cared what I did or who I was because they were focused on being their authentic selves and enjoying their own slice of life and because of this Big Dog coffee was the first place in Pittsburgh that began to feel like home. It’s location was five minutes from the team practice facilities so when I had pockets of time I would leave and just sit at Big Dog and listen to music, where I could just be myself and not the entertainment provided for a city.
Because of this Big Dog Coffee is one of the main reasons I bought my first house, which doubled as my studio space upon deciding to quit football and pursue my art. At this point in time I was working from the attic of my Southside home where in my kitchen I was producing Angry Man salsa. The reason I bought my first house in the Southside of Pittsburgh is because that is where my coffee shop was located.
What most people probably don’t understand is that it really kinda sucked in the beginning to live in Pittsburgh right after I had played for the team that people seemingly worship and was only known by that which was not what I cared to pursue or necessarily be affiliated with any longer. It wasn’t because I didn’t like the team, it was just that I wanted to decide who I wanted to be and not just simply conform to the perception that others imposed on me. Imagine going out and every person you introduce yourself to doesn’t see you as you, but sees you as the value of nothing more than a memory that once entertained them. In this circumstance I was equipped by my understanding from my younger years when introductions didn’t matter, that when people choose to not see you it is better not to speak but watch them and only show them your actions and through that is the only way they are able to see you, and that is what I did.
I worked in my attic for eight months around the clock producing art, at this point in time I was finally free from the regimented schedule that I had to exist within prior. With this removed came it’s pros and cons, all of which I sorted out daily in the only place other than the art store that existed within my routine outside of working in the studio. At this point in time I had been a loyal Big Dog customer for about four years. At this time I had just began my art career in the city of Pittsburgh and this is when I realized what I had to do to be able to ever happily exist here at all. You see the challenge for me was never becoming an artist because I always have been, the challenge for me was the quest to earn my name back and not just my name but my perception, and it just so happened that Big Dog Coffee, the place that first made me feel at home helped me do that.
I approached Nikolay and Cortney, the owners of the shop, about allowing me to redesign all of the artwork. At this point in time I had been told no so many times in this city per that request, but that was the hustle. By putting my artwork out publicly I was able to control what people saw of me and let it be the side I wanted which was where I desired to go, not simply where I had been and what I had done. I remembered how excited I was at the opportunity when Nikolay and Cortney simply said yes, because I saw the opportunity to truly seize the person who I wanted to be something much more than an ex-Steeler, something entirely and completely all my own, an artist.
Nikolay at this point in time was much more creatively reserved, he asked me not to make the paintings too big and used his hand as a loosey goosey parameter in which I smiled and said, “sure not too big”, which in my mind doesn’t exist. Immediately I left that conversation and took a quick walk through the coffee shop to asses 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. As sizing would go each piece of art was roughly three times the size of the art it replaced, and both Nikolay and Cortney loved them all. I signed all of these pieces with my thumb print leaving my name off the work entirely to ensure they would speak for themselves. I installed the paintings three days after getting the okay, and on day four I woke up and had my same routine at Big Dog Coffee with the difference being that people began to know, and refer to me as “The Artist”.
For the next six months in my reality, and in the one place I chose to go which I decorated, I felt like a famous artist. Over the course of the next few years I earned my name back by putting my art everywhere, but it all started with Big Dog Coffee. My life would be completely different without that coffee shop as would my art career.
Flash forward to now and all of the art in Big Dog is different than the first series of paintings that I initially installed and over the course of time from the first paintings in Big Dog to the new ones I’ve captured the attention of a region without breaking my routine.
I guess the moral of this story is to let your actions introduce you. To leave your name off your work until your work becomes your name and once that is accomplished your work is all you are and all you will ever need. That when given parameters with the option of exercising creative freedom that going big wins. I’ve always found it important to build in a coffee shop but in a large way it was Big Dog Coffee that built me, the first place here that I ever felt like home, a place that now even the name Baron Batch has been replaced by The Artist.
Frequently I remind myself that at one point no one in Pittsburgh but me and a handful of other people saw me as an artist. So please be encouraged by this if you are feeling like it is time to outgrow your shell, but please understand the importance of growing into a place to feel like home, not just moving to another shell. Things didn’t change for me when I started being told yes. Things changed for me when I no longer let the no’s affect my attitude. Things only changed for me when I understood what I did not want to be any longer and saw every yes as simply another opportunity to actively deliver on who I desired to be.
Outgrow your shell. Find your home. And let your actions confidently introduce you.
At one point in time I was the entertainment for a city and because of that I couldn’t be myself.
Now being myself is entertaining a city.
Be the you that grows.
You are made to bloom.