Out of the cage

Rocky Batastini

Cage fighter/ painter/poet Rocky Batastini wrestles with his art.

Cage fighter/ painter/poet Rocky Batastini wrestles with his art.

Photo By David Robert

Professional cage fighter and emerging artist Rocky Batastini doesn’t see a reason one person shouldn’t master poetry, painting and the triangle chokehold.

Big, but not overwhelming at 6 feet 2 inches and 200-plus pounds, Batastini’s mild voice and chunky hands point to neither prize fighting nor fine art. He looks more like that backhoe operator who goes to the gym on Sundays.

Batastini’s art, which shows at Sierra Art Gallery from Oct. 16-20, combines expressionist poetry with “painting poetry.”


Batastini’s paintings initially strike the eye as monolithic blocks of dull color gashed with bright yellows or rich reds. Poetic verse then runs over, around or through these gashes.

One painting (Batastini leaves most his paintings untitled) has lines like “taste of your footsteps as I see you go” over a sea of brown slashed diagonally with bright red. The effect is sexual, chaotic and emotional.

Batastini, who was born deaf and couldn’t hear until he was a preschooler, said the paintings complement the verse.

“Words to me are new,” he says. “I cherish words more than most people do. … I use the painting to convey what I’m feeling [when I write].”

Eunkang Koh, assistant professor of art at the University of Nevada, Reno, says the art lacks technical sophistication.

“The work does not seem well done in terms of using color, composition and usage of the text,” Koh says. “From those aspects, the painting is not quite absorbed.”

However, Koh recognizes the emotional intent of the paintings.

Despite the need for refinement in his art, Batastini says he hopes to be inspirational.

“I wanted to show artistic kids that I am a professional athlete, I am from Reno, and I want to show that you can be anything you want to be,” he says.

Batastini says he wants to undermine stereotypes about ultimate fighters. “People think that you go into the cage, and one guy beats the other guy until he dies,” he says. “It is pretty brutal, but the good thing about mixed martial arts [cage fighting] … is you don’t get hit in the head 200 times a match. That’s when people die. We’re not the big blockheads, we’re not the WWE. … We don’t just go out and beat people. We have other sides of our lives, too.”

Batastini says that while his fighter friends tease him about art, he sees no need to stereotype artists, either.

“I want to convey to the public that you can be more than just an artist,” he says. “You don’t need to be a girly man to paint.”

Chad Cornwell, program director for Sierra Arts, says he wanted to exhibit Batastini’s work as part of a general campaign to encourage arts in Reno.

“That’s one of the things Sierra Arts does, is nurturing the arts and the arts community,” Cornwell says. “Showing artists that are emerging, artists that are at a beginning level of their careers.”

Cornwell says Batastini’s atypical personal history and his unusual combination of poetry and painting make him a good fit for Sierra Arts.

“I think he could be a painter without the verse, and I think he could be a writer without the painting,” he says. “But I think him deciding to put those things together makes him who he is as an artist.”