art by Sam Shenkler July 19, 2021
If you were watching the Home Run Derby last week, you may have noticed that Pete Alonso had some pretty sick custom designs painted on his bat. The bat featured cerulean blue and pumpkin orange paint that faded into one another, with black icons all over it, and it thus made headlines. The artist behind this unique baseball bat, Gregory Siff, received a special acknowledgment from Pete Alonso during the broadcast on his way to the Met star’s second straight Home Run Derby title.
Gregory Siff is a talented artist, painter, fashion collaborator, and a huge Mets fan, who was given the opportunity to customize bats for his favorite team’s best hitter.
Pete Alonso’s Home Run Derby bat was not Gregory Siff’s first glimpse into baseball collaborations. He was invited by Topps to participate in Topps Project 2020 and Topps Project 70. Those projects were outlets for artists to customize their takes on existing cards.
We got a chance to catch up with Gregory Siff about his work, his life, and the opportunity of a lifetime he got to design the bat for Pete Alonso and the Home Run Derby.
Kulture Hub: First things first, the bats are very cool. Are custom bats something you’ve been doing for a while, or is it still something you are relatively new to?
Gregory Siff: These are the first bats I’ve ever painted. It sort of found me. I’ve painted on a lot of different things in my career but it was a first. The opportunity came to me through Topps. I was part of Topps project 2020, where they gave artists the opportunity to give our takes on awesome, classic cards. Now I’ve been in contact with them ever since, they’ve been setting up some great opportunities for me.
KH: How did you get the opportunity to design custom bats for Pete Alonso? Was social media a factor? Did you know him personally beforehand?
GS: No I didn’t know him personally. What happened was Topps called me and told me that Pete Alonso was looking for an artist who really loves the Mets. They told me he saw my work and really liked it, and his agent really set things in motion. They told me that they wanted me to collaborate with him. At first, it was just gonna be like hoodies, t-shirts, and stuff.
But he actually commissioned me and asked me if I wanted to paint on these Dove Tail Bats he uses. They make some of the coolest bats, most beautiful bats I have ever seen, like sculptures made of wood. Needless to say, I said yes.
I like to tell stories with my art using symbols and iconography, so that’s really what I wanted to do for Pete’s bat. I wanted to show the story of his career, his family, and his life on the bat. He really gave me creative freedom to do what I felt like. The rest is history, man.
KH: Take me through the process, how many bats did you end up customizing for Pete? How many did he end up using? Were there first and second drafts?
GS: So the plan was to create 8 bats that I would give my all into, then Pete would pick his favorite bat to use during the derby. They told me “do whatever you wanna do!” We wanted him to have a variety of choices. I wanted him to get a feel for all of them and decide which one felt the best.
I made two test bats for him that would not be used for play, we needed to see how my paint would react with the wood and how it would react to striking balls. He ultimately decided on the blue and orange one with black lettering. He picked my favorite one! We have since decided to recreate the bat he used 100 times for a limited release, and we’re gonna send a portion of the proceeds to his charity.
On top of everything, he got me the tickets to go to The Derby, so I really couldn’t be more grateful. I have done a few fashion projects, so I decided [to] paint a custom leather jacket for him as a way to thank you so much for the opportunity. The guy is a true champion and gentleman.
KH: I can see from your Instagram that you are clearly a big Mets fan. Does it mean extra to you that you were able to design a bat for one of the Mets’ biggest stars?
GS: I’m a big-time Mets guy. Going back to when my dad owned one of the biggest catering halls in Brooklyn. When they won the World Series in 1986, they had a party there and I got to hang out with the players. The Mets have always been a part of my life. Pete is a really strong, committed player on, and off the field. I was so happy to be able to paint bats for a real gentleman.
I also want to shoutout his charity Homers For Heroes. He is the type of player like Clemente that wants to leave a mark on this world. I was just super excited and grateful to be paired up with my guy! It meant so much for me because I was doing this for the representation of my favorite team, but also, after getting to know Pete, it was equally as cool doing it for him since he’s such a good dude.
KH: Now, you have also designed a few baseball cards for Topps Project 2020 and Topps Project70, including Aaron Judge and Darryl Strawberry edits. What was the experience like putting your own designs on these established cards?
GS: The feeling of creating your own baseball card is like no other. When I was young, I had always wanted to cut up my cards, paint on them. Now in my studio, that part of my creative process! When Topps signed us on for Project 70, the idea was for us to take our favorite players and our favorite Topps silhouettes, and add something to the cards that nobody else can do but us.
I put a shoutout to my dad’s old catering hall on one of them. Really personal touches. I put my own story on their, and picked players that I felt had a sentimental meaning to me. People I grew up idolizing. Having Topps give you the creative freedom that let me see out my vision was the best! There is nothing better than having your true voice come through in a collaboration. It was awesome that Topps gave the artists the freedom.
KH: Let’s talk a little bit about you as a creator. How long have you been making art? Was being an artist always your career goal?
GS: My first job was in the New York City Opera at Lincoln Center. I was in the boy’s chorus when I was around 12-13. First, I wanted to play for the New York Mets. But really my first aspiration was that I wanted to become an actor.
I was in musicals in high school, then started doing commercials after that. I moved to Los Angeles once I got involved with acting to pursue my dream. However, as I started to mature and get older, the work wasn’t there for me as much as before. I found art to be a response to that frustration.
I didn’t have to audition to make a painting, I would just make one, and it would satisfy me. I’d be the writer, director, and actor all at once through my paintings. That passion for art quickly took away my passion for acting and my wanting to become an actor.
KH: Do you feel like your experiences in other walks of life, such as being an aspiring actor, help shape your art?
GS: Definitely, yeah. The things that I’ve experienced in my life before were all gasoline to tell my story in my paintings. Everything that happens to me is reflected in my work and, simultaneously, everything that I create is a way to deal with the things in my life that inspired the art. I think the most memorable paintings come from the realest place.
KH: What characteristics do you feel truly distinguish your work from others?
GS: I experienced this last night actually, when someone told me that they saw the bats and they knew that it was me. That was really cool! It’s the energy that an artist brings which cannot be duplicated. I bring my energy to each piece, then I go in there with my colors, and my symbols, and everything that makes my art mine.
Eventually, you get to a point where it doesn’t matter the medium that’s used, your voice will come through. You will figure out which tools sing your song the clearest. I feel like that’s what separates me, being that I approach everything with the same energy, the same heart, and the same voice. You get a little bit closer to finding out what distinguishes you every time you pick up the brush.
KH: You have tons of street art, graffiti-looking designs. You also have a lot of sophisticated doodles reminiscent of high school desk drawings. Were you the kind of student to make art during class? What do you think inspires your stylistic choices the most?
GS: I still look at my notes from my NYU classes where we are talking about these important literary epics and next to all my notes are just these drawings I did of characters and Greek gods. Next to those drawings are random designs and characters and logos.
It made me ask myself, “was I even paying attention?” The source of my inspiration is simply my everyday life. What I do, where I go, what I eat, what I see, who I meet. I’m inspired by everything.
I am inspired by the artists that have come before me, paving the way. My style can be acknowledged and accepted because of the work of artists like Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, various New York artists.
My gratitude for being alive, my life, God, all inspire me, my paintings have a little bit of a prayer in them to say “thank you that I get to do this.” When life gives you thongs that are beautiful, or you have to be present for, you must take it and make what you will with it.
KH: What advice do you have for aspiring artists who admire your work?
GS: The best advice that I can give is: Live it! When you go to sleep at night, close your eyes and dream it. See where you want to take it. Dream of your work on the side of the biggest building you can imagine. When you wake up, live it! Get to work. Do it because you love it! Create something everyday.
It doesn’t matter what it is that you create, just create something that you can leave behind. Make a mark on the world every day! Those things will stack up and bring you closer to yourself.
Think about where you are today, think about where you are going, but always appreciate today. Don’t let negative experiences deter you. There are no rules in art. Nobody can tell you you’re doing something wrong, because nobody knows how to paint like you!
KH: Any last things you want the people to know? Any closing thoughts?
GS: I just want to say thank you to Kulture Hub for always putting the artists forward. Every time I speak to you guys, every time you show up to my shows, you guys are so supportive. I think, as artists, we need that sometimes because we question everything.
We say “is this good? Will people like this?” But when you have friends like Kulture Hub that support what you do, and reassure you, it makes for a stronger more confident artist. Thank you for that!
What may not have come through from the interview is that Gregory is one of the friendliest people you could ever meet. He is talented, he is a workhorse, and he is deserving of the attention his art receives.
Pete Alonso could not have picked a more perfect man to design his bat for the Home Run Derby. Go support Gregory Siff by checking out his Instagram, and his website, where you can browse his work, shop, and contact his studio.