Gil Batle has not had an easy life. For nearly half of his 53 years, he’s been in and out of a total of five prisons in California for counts of fraud and forgery.
While in prison, he witnessed horrific acts of racism, gang violence, and abuse from the violent criminals with whom he shared living quarters. To say it was scary would be an understatement.
But there was one thing that saved Batle from becoming another victim of violence, and that was his artistic talent — because as we know, art has a way of helping people overcome some incredible odds.
While materials were of course limited in prison, Batle managed to impress his fellow inmates with his skills, namely in tattooing. With those skills, he was able to stay on good terms with members of gangs with even the bloodiest rivalries.
It might seem strange, but Batle’s artistic skill, which is largely self-taught, managed to save him inside the prison walls, and it’s also managed to give him a new lease on life outside.
Read on to see how his prison tattooing has evolved into something totally unexpected.
Batle spent more than 20 years of his life in and out of some of California's most notorious prisons, like San Quentin, home to all kinds of dangerous criminals. While Batle was not a violent offender, he shared close quarters with them. He managed to stay on everyone's good side by providing gang members with tattoos.
Today, Batle is out of the tattoo business. He's moved to a small island in the Philippines, where his family is from, and spends his days creating a very different kind of art: He carves ostrich eggs!
He uses this unusual medium to tell the stories of his prison days, recounting not only his own story, but the stories of the men he grew to know. These look like delicate Faberge eggs, but look closer and you can see barbed wire, chain link, and handcuffs.
The eggshells are beautiful, but the stories they tell are full of pain, violence, and sadness.
This egg shows another prison Batle was in, the Sierra Conservation Center, also known as Jamestown or, more ominously, "Gladiator School," due to the amount of violence inside.
This egg depicts members of the famous rival gangs the Crips and Bloods and their interactions in the prisons. Batle uses his eggs to tell his fellow inmates' stories as well, but keeps them anonymous to protect their identities.
It’s amazing that such a harsh, brutal reality could yield such delicate art. There’s also something interesting about Batle’s choice of using eggs — the symbol of new life and birth.
But it shows us that even someone who has made bad decisions in life can, with an outlet, create new beauty in the world. The eggs are currently on display in New York’s Ricco/Maresca Gallery.
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