Through The Eyes Of A Living Legend
On the evening of June 21st, VILL correspondent, Emily Dobby was invited to the VIP launch of the Robert Bateman Centre’s latest exhibit, Into the Arctic.
Into the Arctic showcases over 50 original oil paintings and three films by Cory Trépanier, a Canadian explorer, filmmaker and painter named one of Canada’s Top 100 Living Explorers by Canadian Geographic Magazine. This incredible body of work was created over the course of a decade taking you on a compelling journey through Trépanier’s expeditions, sharing the wonder of the remote and expansive Canadian Arctic; a region undergoing rapid change, much of which has never been painted. After a relaxed reception, Trépanier, alongside world-renowned artist and naturalist Robert Bateman introduced the exhibition.
Both Trépanier and Bateman hope their realist, plein air paintings and films spark awareness and conversation about Canada’s Arctic and wildlife, and instill a greater appreciation and concern for the future of these ever-changing landscapes.
Bateman became known for his paintings of polar bears, a subject to which he would often return, since the polar bear is the top predator of its habitat. Despite their great size, Bateman would often depict the bear as a tiny part of a vast, awe-inspiring Arctic landscape. Bateman has always preferred painting predators. Particularly, the sculptural qualities of the rock formations and the glorious light of the Davis Strait in the arctic appealed to his artistic sensibilities. When Bateman first visited the Arctic, his paintings were produced en plein air on small 8 x 11 cm wood boards, inspired by Tom Thomson’s expeditions into nature and tradition of plein air painting.
Born in Toronto in 1930, Bateman was enchanted by nature and wildlife at a young age, joining the Junior Field Naturalist Club in his hometown. He went on to study Geography at the University of Toronto and taught art and geography in high school for twenty years. He has travelled widely to many remote natural areas with his wife, conservationist and artist Birgit. The couple made Saltspring Island their home in 1985.
A keen artist and naturalist from a young age, his first forays painting wildlife and nature were in the representational style. He experimented with impressionism, cubism and abstract expressionism as a young man, but returned to realism when he was in his early thirties upon seeing an Andrew Wyeth exhibit at the Albright Knox Gallery in Buffalo, New York. Bateman felt as though Wyeth’s work gave him permission to return to the realist style which he felt was more suitable to depicting the particularities of the planet. It is this realistic and evocative style featuring wildlife in its natural habitat that made Bateman an icon in wildlife painting circles, attracting critical acclaim and an international following. His work has been featured in many exhibits across North America, notably in an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution: The Art of Robert Bateman toured Canada and the US for two years, an achievement Bateman considers a tremendous honour.
Since the 1960’s, Bateman has been an active member of naturalist and conservation organizations and is a spokesperson for many environmental issues. Aside from being one of Canada’s foremost artists, he is a naturalist recognized by the Audubon Society as one of the 20th century’s “heroes of conservation”. He is a spokesman for many environmental and preservation issues, using his art to raise millions of dollars for these causes.
At 89, Bateman continues a schedule of daily painting, public talks, writing essays and advocating nature. His numerous honours and awards include Officer of the Order of Canada and fourteen honorary doctorates. He recently released his memoirs, an elegant portrait of his life as an artist featuring never-before-seen illustrations. Bateman considers his legacy is his oeuvre, a sublime body of work, an homage to nature spanning decades: “Nature is an infinite source of reason, imagination, and invention.”
A treasured fixture overlooking Victoria’s inner harbour, the Bateman Centre is host to the largest collection of Bateman’s original and rare works. Since 2013 this interactive gallery has inspired visitors to consider their place in nature with its rotation of nature-inspired exhibits and educational and public programs.