The biography of Robert Bateman is one most artists can only dream of achieving.
The 85-year-old has had major one-man exhibitions in galleries and museums across the globe, has had his famous wildlife art commissioned on Canada Post stamps and coins for the Royal Canadian Mint, written more than a dozen books, been the subject of many films, and received numerous honours and awards, including the Officer of the Order of Canada.
Now, Bateman has added another achievement to his list — the World Ecology Award, which he recently received during the World Ecology Gala at the Saint Louis Zoo, marking the first visual artist to ever pick up the recognition.
The award is given to individuals who’ve raised public awareness of global ecological issues and made significant contributions to environmental protection and biodiversity conservation. Names of previous recipients include John Denver, Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Paul Ehrlich, Richard Leakey, Costa Rica President Jose Maria Figueres, Harrison Ford and Conservation International, and the Prince of Wales. Seeing his name on such a list makes Bateman feel humbled.
“That’s unbelievable,” said Bateman from his home on Salt Spring Island. “What’s a little naturalist and artist doing in this kind of lecturer’s company? It’s amazing.”
Growing up in Ontario, Bateman always enjoyed nature and art, but he didn’t think that was anything special since many children were the same. Around age 12 when most children went on to explore more mature activities, Bateman got serious about nature and art, drawing images from his daily adventures in the urban ravines of central Toronto. Little did he know that some day he’d become arguably the most popular living artist in Canada and certainly among the most successful.
Since the age of 16, Bateman has been teaching nature and still hosts workshops on the subject. His realistic painting style, featuring wildlife in its habitat, encourages viewers to closely observe the natural world, and his art has raised millions of dollars for various causes related to the environment and preservation.
According to Bateman, the mandate of his charity, the Robert Bateman Foundation, is to return human beings to nature as much as possible by looking at his art. But getting people to connect with nature in reality is getting harder to do.
“I’m told the average young person spends zero time in nature on average. A generation ago, it was 100 per cent,” said Bateman.
“To me, it’s a gigantic societal mistake to not be alert to this as a major threat to our health physically and our health mentally and our health spiritually. All those things can be helped with simply being in nature.”
Bateman realizes its hard to compete with the stimuli found in a world of computers and television screens, then turns to a quote he recently learned: nobody sees a flower really, it takes time like to have a friend takes time. When asked why promoting nature and the environment is so important to him, Bateman gets philosophical, noting variety is the spice of life, but we’re wiping out variety.
Even though he’s now in his eighties, Bateman maintains a demanding schedule between painting, public events and his relentless advocacy for nature.
Seven days a week, you’ll still find him painting in his studio until 10 p.m. Neither he or his wife know how to be leisurely.
“We tried leisurely twice, but we both looked at each other and said, do you like doing this?” said Bateman. “Every day, I like to make a difference during the day in small ways.”
Located in Victoria’s Inner Harbour, the Robert Bateman Centre showcases more than 160 works and education facilities that promote a love of nature. Bateman has also released his latest book, Life’s Sketches — a portrait of his life as an artist with never before seen illustrations.