Unexpected Bateman
Robert Bateman, Belt Line Ravine, 1950, oil on board.

Unexpected Bateman

Penticton Art Gallery, Penticton, BC - July 5 – Sep 14

by Michael Turner

Now in his 95th year, Robert Bateman is as close as you can get to a household name when it comes to artists in Canada. Chances are, even those remotely aware of his realist paintings of eagles and grizzly bears will know him also as a conservation advocate whose prints have raised millions of dollars for environmental causes. But for Penticton Art Gallery director/curator Paul Crawford, there is enough we don’t know about Bateman that bears sharing, that contributes to his relevance as “an important force in Canadian art.”

Just as Crawford did with American painter and educator Bob Ross in 2020, he does with Bateman, starting out with what we know of the artist, then, through inventive exhibition design, teasing out what’s hidden in the folds and creases. In Bateman’s case, it is his artistic development, beginning with his impressionistic landscapes, as in Belt Line Ravine (1950), an homage to his early idol Claude Monet, followed by an immersion in abstraction, which, like his contemporaries Toni Onley and Takao Tanabe, Bateman left for the realist canvases we know him for today.

“Most of the work in the exhibition comes from the artist’s personal collection or from gifts to family, some of it sculpture, some of it works of others, including his wife Birgit [Freybe Bateman],” says Crawford over the phone. Most unexpected are a quartet of works Crawford discovered hanging on the wall of Bateman’s studio, behind his easel—one by Robert Motherwell, one by Pablo Picasso, one by Gordon Smith and one by Jack Shadbolt. “These,” says Crawford without hesitation, “are definitely in the show.”


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