Catch up with local artist Alvin Batiste

Greg Fischer Editor-in-chief
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

Everyone in Donaldsonville knows Alvin Batiste. His unique paintings are seen everywhere around town, from inside the River Road African American Museum to Mayor Leroy Sullivan's office.

His work was featured in a children's book authored by Mary Gehman last year: Cardy the Cardinal Finds a Home in Donaldsonville. But he will be featured in another children's book coming up, maybe in the next couple of months.

"It's about swamp animals," Batiste said at the recent 4th of July celebration at Crescent Park. "Miss Grace wrote the story, and I painted all the pictures. I've been staying busy, painting."

That opened up a dialogue for Batiste to discuss his career a little further. Some people may not know that Batiste's work spreads beyond city limits. His art makes up the cover art for Billy Bob Thornton's 2001 album Private Radio.

"They were filming in Donaldsonville," Batiste said. "Some of the people on set were looking through the window. They came in and bought some of my work. A few days later, I took a day off and Billy Bob Thornton came in. So he called me. He said, 'Alvin, this is Billy Bob Thornton. I love your work, and I would love to meet you.' I don't stay too far from work. So I walked over there and got a chance to meet him. I was just so excited to be doing his CD, you know."

The 56-year-old artist said he listens to music at the shop everyday. He likes all sorts of music. He also likes the local radio, KKAY. Batiste appears younger than he is. He says his home is in Donaldsonville, where he was born and raised.

"I try to take care of myself," he said. "I try to keep in shape. I get a lot of exercise, and I try to eat right." He laughs.

Batiste lives with three older sisters. He says they take care of each other.

"Everybody pitches in," he said.

Batiste attended Donaldsonville High School for two years. He actually did not begin painting until his late 20s.

The medium he prefers is acrylic, but he said if he's not using acrylic, he's happy using water color on paper or pen and ink or pencil.

"I don't get bored with just doing one thing. I go back and forth. I used to always be daydreaming. I wanted to be an artist like Picasso."

He begins to name artists he admires: Rembrandt, Norman Rockwell, Andy Warhol, Henri Matisse, and Michelangelo.

"[Warhol] would take like soup cans and cutouts. It was different, but I kind of liked it [postmodern] and psychedelic."

But Batiste's favorite is Bob Ross.

"I used to watch him every Saturday," he said.

Currently he has a gallery at Framer Dave's located on 512 Mississippi Street. Dave and Evie Imbraguglio, owners of the framing shop, love Batiste. Dave Imbraguglio has been framing since 1988, but they have been at the current address for six years.

Moreover, Batiste explained how the "moss pickers," a truly beautiful painting hanging up in the local museum came to life. He said that Kathe Hambrick, founder of the River Road African American Museum, visited him one day at the shop and began talking about African moss harvesters. Moss was used to stuff pillows and mattresses.

"She was just telling me the story," he said. "Later on I decided to get a canvas out and painted it. No photograph. I kind of just had to use my imagination."

Batiste said he prefers to paint people, for instance people working on a plantation.

Next, although Batiste is somewhat tucked away in Donaldsonville, he's no real secret. Louisiana tourism has taken him to Howard University in Washington, he explained. And he got to go to Disney's Epcot Center.

"A couple of musicians and some other artists went," he said.

Batiste holds Donaldsonville art near his heart. He used to set up shop on Railroad Avenue at the old Ben Franklin store, a "five and dime store," he explained. He mentioned Miss Sandra Imbraguglio, Dave's mother.

"[Sandra] said, 'Alvin, what you doing with all these paintings?' I said I'm just doing it for my mom. It was just a hobby for me. I was just having fun. My mom said keep going."

Lillian Batiste, Alvin's mother passed away nearly 20 years ago, but he said she was a big influence on him. A homemaker, Lillian eventually retired and took care of the children. Alvin also has three brothers.

"Some of my siblings used to draw, but they didn't stick with it," he said.

Batiste said he is happy he stuck with it.

"I just enjoy what I do. I would love to do more to promote tourism more in Louisiana. Maybe a commercial to tell people 'Welcome to Donaldsonville.' It's a dream of mine. That and maybe have my own show like Bob Ross."

Lastly if you feel the urge to bring an authentic Alvin Batiste into your home, at the time of publication Batiste's small canvases are going for $100-$150. Larger paintings are being sold for several hundred or even upwards of $1,000 dollars.