Robert Bateman doesn’t think of himself as a particularly talented technical painter.
“I don’t think I’m a great painter, technically. I’m always struggling,” Bateman said. “I’m always making mistakes. … I don’t know what I’m doing half the time, I’m exploring and discovering and always trying to improve.”
He sees this as a perhaps part of the reason his paintings have proven to be so popular for so many years, however. He explains hundreds of artists paint birds and wildlife, as he is known for, so it’s not the subject matter alone which draws people to his work.
It perhaps has more to do with his approach, his vision of nature and this sense of discovery he approaches each project with.
The Robert Bateman Centre is opening Saturday, May 25 at noon in the old CPR Steamship Terminal and will feature around 160 of Bateman’s works, ranging from his earliest years as an artist through to the wildlife paintings he has become so well known for.
The exhibit will shed light on a side of Bateman few ever get the chance to see. An entire room has been devoted to Bateman’s environmental message paintings. Some of Bateman’s portrait work will also be on display, mainly featuring paintings of his wife and friends.
“Most people don’t think of me as somebody who paints landscapes and portraits, but I do. They just don’t get out there,” Bateman said. “I’ve always kind of balked at being pigeonholed as a wildlife artist. It’s OK. It’s not an insult, but it’s kind of like saying Rembrandt is a portrait artist. Well he’s an artist in all kinds of broad ways.”
Bateman even went through an abstract expressionism period, which is represented at the gallery.
“That’s a major, major show for any artist,” Paul Gilbert, executive director of the Bateman Foundation, said. “It’s the first exhibition that’s kind of an insight into Bateman’s life, his personal interests, the work he did that most of the world has never seen.”
The show features original prints and reproductions, something Bateman said has been a tad controversial.
“It’s the only way to show the scope of my work. It would be impossible to start getting shipping and insurance and permissions,” Bateman said. “The reproductions, which have been going on since 1980, they’re very high quality, they’re not just like a poster.”
“The most important thing is the thought, the idea behind it.”
The majority of the paintings and prints have video and audio supplements of Bateman talking about the work, which can be accessed via smart phones or tablets. The gallery will have tablets to loan to patrons who wish to take the self-guided tour.
Gilbert said he had some reservations installing the gallery in the old CPR Steamship Terminal building, a heritage building designed by Francis Rattenbury. The second floor, where the gallery is located, was a shell, and Gilbert said he had a hard time seeing how the gallery’s layout would all come together.
Ultimately Gilbert is more than happy with the outcome.
“It’s worked better than I could possibly have hoped for.”
A gift shop is set to open on the first floor of the building about a month after the gallery’s opening. A service, which will be offered starting in the fall, is an opportunity for visitors to the gallery to order prints of the works on display through an interactive ordering station. Customers will pick the print they want to purchase, along with options such as framing, and the print will be shipped to the customer’s home.
Money from the sales of prints will go towards the Robert Bateman Foundation, which promotes exposure to nature for young students.