Robert Bateman: Heart & Home
Robert Bateman, Earth from Space, 2005, original acrylic on canvas; print on display

Robert Bateman: Heart & Home

The Bateman Gallery, Victoria, BC - To Feb 25, 2023

by Michael Turner

Known for his realist paintings of animals in the wild, artist and naturalist Robert Bateman, now 92, has been for many years a maker of highly personalized gifts. Whether carved and painted, sent through fax machines or modelled from clay, these works were given by the artist to close friends and family members to mark special occasions or shared experiences. Some signify running jokes or celebrations of his grandchildren’s favourite things.

In an effort to broaden the context of these works (gathered together for the first time), The Bateman Gallery has recreated the Bateman family living room as a display site. At the far end of this room are hand-carved lamps that feature Bateman’s oval chevrons, a recurring motif in many of his wooden objects. Also on show is a selection of the artist’s pottery works given to his mother and his wife, the photographer Birgit Freybe, on birthdays and anniversaries. Most notable is a nativity scene made from pieces the Batemans collected on family trips to Bavaria.

A second room includes smaller works, largely cards and faxes, donated by their recipients. A highlight is a collection of Valentine’s Day cards given to Freybe over the course of the couple’s almost 50-year marriage. Here too are examples of jewelry, and throughout the exhibition are some bigger paintings based on family gatherings, outings and trips.

But of all the works gathered here, the crowd-pleaser might be Bateman’s most ambitious. Inspired by a ballet presentation of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, the artist assembled with plaster and paint a statue of the eponymous character, arms by his side, teeth bared and ready for action.

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