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You may want to ask me about my own art, my views about art and art history, conservation and, being 87 years old, pretty much everything else! I am happy to answer any questions you have and will start at 1pm EDT. Two of my sons are dictating questions and typing my answers while I paint on this rainy morning on Saltspring Island, BC.
EDIT: Great questions so far! Feel free to ask questions about my views of art history, my trip around the world in a Land Cruiser, my thoughts on consumerism or anything else.
EDIT 2: Looks like things are winding down. Any more questions?
EDIT 3: Thank you all for an enjoyable morning and afternoon. I guess we are done now.
[You can also ask me in person at the following events in the next few weeks.] (https://batemancentre.org/events/) I will be signing my latest book, ["Robert Bateman's Canada] (http://www.simonandschuster.ca/books/Robert-Batemans-Canada/Robert-Bateman/9781501163432).
[My Info.] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Bateman_(painter)
[Bateman Centre Webpage] (https://batemancentre.org/)
Who is your favorite artist, and what artists have given you inspiration in your own work?
My favourite artist is Andrew Wyeth. He has inspired my work as I mentioned to u/Spiel_Foss. But I am also influenced by abstract artists such as Fraz Kline and [Clifford Still] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clyfford_Still). I am also influenced by Canada's [Group of Seven] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Group_of_Seven_(artists) ) and [Tom Thompson] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Thomson).
Once I have been influenced by an artist I see the world, as I move through it, partially through their eyes. For example, a rail fence might make me think of the powerful black strokes of Kline. I will photograph it and perhaps use it in a future painting, as I did in my painting ["Redwing-blackbirds and Rail Fence"] (http://collections.batemancentre.org/artwork/red-winged-blackbirds-rail-fence-0). The large empty skies in several of my paintings, such as ["Cheetah Siesta"] (http://collections.batemancentre.org/artwork/cheetah-siesta) and ["Circus Train"] (http://collections.batemancentre.org/artwork/circus-train-nighthawks), were influenced by the abstracts of [Marc Rothko] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Rothko). My view of Autumn in Ontario is enhanced by the work of the Group of Seven.
I love your art, Mr. Bateman!
1) Do you have a favourite painting of yours?
2) Do you have a favourite animal?
Thank you for your question.
I don't have a favorite painting. It's like asking who my favorite kid is (I have 5). I generally like the more challenging once better than the, "easy pieces"
Generally speaking I like predators: Hawks and owls, wolves and lions. It may be a guy thing, but I think they have better shapes. The beaver is basically a boring brown blob. (sorry Canada) However it's a much more admirable symbol than the bald eagle.
Oh man, I LOVE your work. I was in Jackson, WY and decided to stop by the National Museum of Wildlife Art. After I bought my admission tickets, I saw my favorite painting ever. Chief! My dad has also had a copy of The Air, The Forest, and The Watch in his office and I love it, too. My question is what got you into wildlife art?
Ha Ha great photo!
Any artist worth their salt paints what is important in their life. Nature and wildlife is the most important thing in my life (next to family).
"Chief" is a bison I saw in Wood Buffalo Park, Alberta. I got out of the car and took a couple of steps toward him. He took a couple of steps toward me. So I quickly got back in the car and took that shot.
It is the largest painting I have ever done: 6'2" x 8'
I donated it to the NMWA because it is the best showcase for wildlife art and I have had a warm relationship with the Kerrs (who started it) for many years.
Do you fear that digital technologies will damage fine arts or do you see it as adding to art?
Digital technology is now part of are. My wife Birgit and I both have digital cameras. I believe my prints are done with digital technology. It has opened up new worlds, and I don't see it as a threat.
What is your favorite kind of cake?
I like pie better than cake, but the heavier the cake the better. If I had to name on, it would be carrot cake.
Hi Robert. Huge fan of your painting and the art of your talented artistic family! I am a musician. Do you listen to music while you paint or do you prefer a quiet working atmosphere? If so, what do you like to listen to?
Brother of Jocelyn Bateman.
I do not require peace and quiet. I can talk on the phone and paint, or dictate letter to my assistant. However, while I'm planning a painting, I usually need to be more focused.
My first choice is to have CBC Radio Interviews on during the day. In the evening, TV news or docs, plus certain BBC Dramas. I usually paint and watch TV until 10pm. My goto music would be JS Bach, particularly his Goldberg Variations played by Glen Gould. I also like folk and bluegrass and old time blues.
One of my favorite musical performances was you playing guitar at your sister's wedding to my son John!
Hi Robert! Great to see you here.
I'm currently studying music composition, but want to make a difference environmentally. How can I incorporate music into saving the planet? My first instinct is writing music for documentaries tackling climate change, and other environmental topics, but what is your take on it?
Do you listen to music when you paint? What kind? Does it differ from music you listen to for pleasure?
Writing music for environmental documentaries sounds like a good idea. Songs with a message such as, Joni Mitchell's, Big Yellow Taxi: "You don't always know what you've got until it's gone" also carries a message.
As for my musical taste, I answered some of that with u/fergusongs
How was painting when you first started (did it come naturally and if not how much of a struggle was it at first)? Did you have a favorite medium when you started?
All little kids are natural painters but most "normal kids" grow up around the age of 12 and give up art. I guess that I have not grown up because that is when I got serious. My favourite medium was what we called "poster paint" - it would now be called Gouache (opaque watercolour).
It came naturally from the beginning but it is always a struggle. I like my paintings when I first start and they almost always get worse but I don't know why I don't like them. So I start a new one to cheer me up. That is why I work on 5 or 10 at once. Eventually the inspiration to go on comes from out of nowhere and I am able to continue... until I get stuck again.
Thanks for the answer. Your work inspires me because it takes the subjects beyond the camera. Photos could never capture these images, in my mind at least, but your paintings retain the captured in the act perspective of photography.
Your work shows why environmental preservation and nature conservation is so important. Thank you for the contribution to humanity. I think your work is that important.
And thank you for doing all you can too to help preserve a love of nature and the natural world itself.
Bob, when you are using oils, do you panit from dark to light colors or the other way around? Thanks
I usually start with dark and overlay with opaque light colours. But at the very beginning I try to leave light areas and work around them. I layer light against dark and dark against light.
If painting were not your primary medium, what other artform would you work in?
I do a lot of drawings. Particularity on trips. My weapon of choice is black ballpoint pen. I do some sculptor, usually as reference for my paintings. For that I use sculptors was and sometimes clay. I've done some original prints such a copper plate etching and stone lithos, but I prefer painting to all of them.
Good day Mr. Bateman, I just wanted to start by saying I came to see you at Kingsway Mall, in Edmonton, about this time last year, with a framed reproduction of the Dozing Lynx, you told me a story about how you got stuck once on some backroads and the people who were helping you were speaking french. Your signed work is still hanging in my living room and I look at it every day.
A question I've wanted to ask you was: Do you look for anything specific in a nature scene before you use it as inspiration? What makes you take a picture of one thing as opposed to another? It's hard for me to clearly explain my question, I hope you understand what I mean...
Thank you for doing this, you were a pleasure to speak with, and I look forward to reading the rest of the questions people are asking you. Here's a picture my wife took of us the day I came to visit you.
Have a great day!
I don't look for anything specific as I am moving through nature. I am happy to be surprised by what nature has to offer. I hope that answers your question!
Will you be teaching (lecturing)
anywhere? Tell me your favorite pie and I will bring it along!
I will be making many Canadian stops in the near future (see below). Blueberry pie is my favourite but please don't bring any because I am on the road and can't handle a pie. But I'll be happy to see you if you can make it. [Events page] (https://batemancentre.org/events/)
Here’s a breakdown of all confirmed tour dates:
10/23 Ottawa – 7pm, CPAWS Fundraiser
10/25 Guelph – 8pm, River Run Centre
10/26 Toronto – Noon, Metro Hall
10/26 Burlington – 7pm, Indigo Burlington
10/27 Milton – 7pm, The Gallery Upstairs
10/28 Aurora – 2pm, Biggs Gallery
10/28 Stouffville – 5:30pm, Golden Eagle Art Gallery
10/29 Newmarket – 1pm, Select Art
10/30 Edmonton – 7pm, Kule Theatre, MacEwan University
11/1 Vancouver (Maple Ridge) – 7pm, Kanaka Creek Elementary School
11/2 Calgary – 7pm, Chapters Crowfoot
11/4 Victoria – 7pm, Steamship Terminal
I have one of your coffee table books and thoroughly enjoy looking through the images. Do you have a gallery anywhere that displays your originals?
Hello. Thank you for your question. I have a few galleries in Canada in the States with pieces in their collection. The most comprehensive collection resides in The Robert Bateman Centre in Victoria. Here you will find a vast array of my work past, present and future.
Hi Robert, you won’t remember me but about 15 years ago I emailed you. I was a young artist and I mentioned I wanted to serve my community with my art. I was seeking advice and to my great surprise you actually emailed me back 6 months later.
You encouraged me.
It was so meaningful and helped me in a moment I needed it.
Since then, I have made a career out of service, sharing and teaching. I have grown to understand that everything is an art form in one way or another and we get to choose how to express our creativity.
This week, I was fortunate enough to have been elected as a city councillor in my home town and I only hope that in the work I do with my life I can inspire someone the way you inspired me.
The work continues and it always will. A life of creative service is the greatest thing I could have asked for and you are a great example of that.
And my question! Will we ever see a book with all your unfinished sketches and paintings so we can explore your process?
Thank you so much for your letter! One of your comments made me think of a quote from Albert Schweitzer, the great humanitarian, when he spoke to a graduating call at Harvard University
"I don't know any of you, but one thing I do know is that the only way to be truly happy is to be of service to others". (paraphrased)
We don't have plans for a book showing process. I have thought of the possibly of a short video in which I could demonstrate or talk about the process but it is not on the calendar at the moment. I will keep your idea in mind!
My new book, coming out right now is all finished pieces about Canada, ["Robert Bateman's Canada"] (http://www.simonandschuster.ca/books/Robert-Batemans-Canada/Robert-Bateman/9781501163432).
The "Limited Edition Print" strategy is likely the most contentious issue. The edition numbers are extremely high that the value they are being sold at is very questionable to many. It is not hard to find signed limited edition Bateman prints available at auction or kijiji for under $50.
It is said no human, living or dead, has signed his autograph more often than Robert Bateman.
That could be a factor, you are right. It kind of comes back to the whole topic of sharing with few rather than many. I only started to do prints at all when I couldn’t satisfy the demand for originals and the originals became too expensive for the average person. I received a modest royalty on each one.
My print market was started in the States and when you consider that the population of North America is more than 360 Million, the limited edition of 950 is very limited. In the 80’s that number didn’t even allow one print for every dealer that wanted one.
Here was an exception: In order to raise funds for conservation, the publisher created the idea of editions that were based on demand: the buyer could place an order and pay for it up front but there was a definitely closing date. “The Air, The Forest & The Watch” was such an edition and it was subscribed for 42,000 prints, raising millions for conservation.
My prints are sold on the secondary market, but I have never had anything to do with that. In the 80’s I heard of people buying several and putting them under their bed then reselling at a later date to earn a bit of a profit. I guess that is the free market system.
Thanks so much for your AMA!
My great-uncle was Frank Smith, who I know you spent some of your youth learning from. He passed away before I was born, but I have always heard so many stories about him. I was wondering if you had any stories of Uncle Frank you would share, and whether or not you ever had any of his carved birds?
I know Uncle Frank lamented, even over 50, 60, 70 years ago, about the loss of habitat for our native birds and animals, and I'm sure you would echo his sentiment. What do you think are some of the things we can all do to help fight the habitat loss for the species that make our cities, towns, and country home?
Hello! Thank you for reminding me of Frank Smith. A wise and gentle person who was a role model for a good human being. I have many happy memories of the "Brodie Room", not open to the public on the 4th floor of the Royal Ontario Museum. I was a serious bird carver before I was a serious painter, but they both came along around the same time. The pinacle of my bird carving was a Screech Owl (Owl faces are hard!) I did as a gift for my mother, in the late 1950's.
The most important thing we can do is to vote for politicians who care about preserving and protecting nature. If this means paying higher taxes, and paying more for products, so be it. "There is no free lunch" We can pay now, or we can pay later, but if we pay later, it will cost a lot more.
Mr. Bateman, thanks for this opportunity.
I find your photo-realism to be haunting as well as inspiring. Many of your subjects are placed in the middle of actions that would be difficult to even capture with digital photography. So your research process must be fascinating.
Please tell us a little about your general research process and how this has evolved over your career. Are you still as fascinated and inspired by the subject matter as your work seems to indicate or is it more of a process? Or both perhaps?
Great questions. Thank you!
Since, as you probably know, I used to be an abstract painter and before that I was a group of seven groupie and painted everything on the spot out of doors. I never touched it again in the studio. But since my "road to Damascus" in the 1962 Andrew Wyeth show at the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, I realized that the only way to be true to myself as a naturalist (who cares about particularity in nature) was to change my style to Realism.
In the 1970s I had a decent camera and was able to shoot lots of reference photos. I use 5 to 50 photos as reference in a painting. I used to use a slide view but now rely on my iPad to view them. I also use my own wax models to reference angles of limbs. And I have my own small freezer to store birds in (perhaps another question will follow on that).
I am still inspired by the subject matter - I have far more ideas for paintings than I have time to do them. And I keep getting more all the time.
Hello Mr. Bateman. Have had many of your calendars grace our house's walls over the years.
Understanding you use reference photos, what's the story behind the most challenging photo you took for one of your paintings?
Thanks for the AMA.
If I have a decent photo, it is not that challenging to paint it. But, I have had a few adventures while taking photos. One was on safari in East Africa with our six year old son Christopher. We drove foolishly close to a leopard in a tree. Christopher was sitting on the roof of the Land rover. It took me a few minutes to realize that the Leopard was really interested in Christopher (as a snack) so we asked him to get inside the vehicle. I also broke my knee photographing a Caper Caillie (giant grouse), was nearly crushed by a falling cow in New Zealand and got a black eye while photographing a Grey Whale in Mexico.
Did you actually kill Paul Allen, or was that all in your head?
His son replying here:
We explained the joke and he chuckled. :)
How do you think the content and style of painting (as a medium & genre of artwork) will change as we further rely on digital communications and digital photography?
I don't think it will change. Digital is just the instrument, it is not the inspiration. In fact I have a theory that we are at the end of progress and change in art and practically everything else. The course of human history has been like a continuous river, with one thing leading to the other. Such as the age of enlightenment (18th century) leading to the Industrial Revolution (19th Century), then technological Revolution (20th Century). According to my theory, there is more activity than ever before, but no direction.
I love you art and I have shared my Photography with you before. I hope to see you in Toronto next week at book launch. Will you be making appearances anywhere else?
Thank you! And thanks for sharing your photos before - I look forward to seeing you... please tell me you were on the AMA.
[I have lots of other stops in the next few weeks] (https://batemancentre.org/events/).
There is a story about you and Carrot Cake at Patisserie Daniels that I have heard a few times.
I don't remember that, sorry.
Do you have any interesting stories to tell about teaching high school art in Richmond Hill in the 50's?
It was my first year of teaching. It was the hardest year of my life, partly because it was a staggered system due to overcrowding and the new Thornhill school was not yet built. I was teaching Thornhill kids from noon until 6:00 at night. I had a terrible time table in that I had a double period of British constitutional History for 9C and 9D boys. The worst two classes in the school, from a discipline point of view. It was last thing Friday afternoon. I kept control but felt I was driving a chariot with 30 wild horses!
The following year, after the new school was built, was sweetness and light by comparison.
Tell us your favourite Gord Downie story?
Although I never met Gord Downey, I am well aware of his legacy as a Musician and a true Canadian. He exhibited incredible strength after his diagnosis. My thoughts and condolences to his family and legion of fans.
Hi Robert. Have you ever met the late Bill Reid? Any thoughts on his style?
He and I were at a social evening at the home of a Bill Reid collector. I was very honored to meet him. I consider him one of the giants of Canadian art. I hold Haida art in very high esteem. We have a bit of a collection of tribal art from around the world. Our Northwest coast natives are perhaps the most sophisticated artists in that genre.
Have your art and your environmentalism influenced each other?
Thanks for your question. Environmentalism has influenced several "political pieces" with very direct messages. The overall body of my work, perhaps inspired people to joy through nature. If it does that it could effect their actions as a consumer and as an activist.
Because you said.... "pretty much everything else!"
If you lived in the states, would you moved to Canada? :)
No I wouldn't move. There are a lot of beautiful places in America from the point of view of nature and from the point of view of human history. So I think it is a good place to live in spite of the politicians that come and go. In some ways American environmental protection laws are better than those in Canada.
Do you ever get frustrated by the lack of praise or attention received from the artworld establishment. For instance, your work has been ignored by The National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Ontario. Why do you think this is?
I don't get frustrated - I am a bit amused by the topic.
I sometimes feel a bit like Don Quixote with the windmills.
The windmills didn't care about Don Quixote so why should he care about them.
Being an art snob myself, I understand that a lot of wildlife art is shoddy and appeals to the lowest common denominator but so is a lot of abstract art. It goes against logic that subject matter would be the criteria for quality in art. There is an element in the art establishment (which I sometimes call "The Priesthood") that feels that if the art is enjoyed by ordinary people, it cant be serious art. The same applies to music. The more esoteric, the more the snob-appeal.
However, in my case, I have had several major shows in art museums such as Omaha, Nebraska and another in Wisconsin. Most of my shows, however, have been in natural history museums. I am convinced that time will take care of this and art will be appreciated for its quality, not its subject matter.
That feeling of not knowing quite what to do - how do you pass the time until you know? Do you find having multiple projects on the go that you can jump between helps?
Yes, as I put in one of these other answers, I have 5-10 going at once at any time. I feel a real thrill starting a new piece and will eventually get bogged down and frustrated. Starting a new piece helps keep me working. And then, when I'm bogged down by #10, the first piece doesn't looks so bad anymore.
Love your work, I remember meeting you several years ago as a young kid on Salt Spring when our class went through the ducks unlimited place. I was the one who asked about that sweet eagle painting you’d been working on, though you probably forgot such a menial encounter.
Still glad to have met you, hope your works continue to grow more stunning than the last. We have one of your works (probably a copy) from the shopping mall raffle things, probably my favorite of our decorations.
As its an AMA I’d like to ask, what is the purpose you see in being an artist?
Is it a desire to use art as a language to convey a truth that’s been forgotten? Like your animal paintings which have a clear air of “This is the beauty of our environment” and therefore carry the subtle message of environmental protection, or do you do it for some other reason, personal or otherwise?
You summed up the answers to your own question. I have always done art to satisfy myself. However, if my art can serve a positive purpose, such as bringing people enjoyment or helping to raise awareness and protect nature, so much the better.
Besides the obvious art, nature, and family - what are you passionate about?
Beyond my own love of nature, from the age of 16, I have been keen on getting others excited by nature and spending time outdoors. So my wife and I began the Bateman Foundation and the Bateman Centre, which are dedicated to the same cause. [Please take a look] (https://batemancentre.org/foundation/).
Did you always plan on a painting career?
I have always painted. But I became a teacher of Geography, History and Art in order to have a "meal ticket" to support my painting. It wasn't until the income from my paintings exceeded the income from my teaching that I decided to leave teaching and do art fully time. I was 45 years old.
I still enjoy teaching and just finished a 3-day "master class" workshop at Hollyhock.
Hello Mr.Bateman, do you have times where it's hard to paint?
I can paint with lots of distractions. Only two thoughts come to mind: Painting in Algonquin Park and it got too dark to see, but I kept painting. All my dark areas that I thought were charcoal color, turned out to be alizerine crimson. I've also found Black flies and Mosquito challenging while trying to paint. They kept committing suicide in my oils. On the psychological level, I do regularly get frustrated with not knowing quite what to do. But that feeling always passes eventually.
> was nearly crushed by a falling cow in New Zealand
Oh please come back and finish this story! :)
OK we were in New Zealand and we had been put shore on this little island. There was a steep cliff (maybe 20ft high) with a field above it. I was sitting drawing the shoreline at the bottom of the cliff and some cows were up in the field on the the fence line. My wife was walking up the field from the other side, which spooked the cows. She had no idea they were there. They went towards the edge of the cliff and one fell/jumped over the slight overhang (which broke off). The cow fell over the cliff, just missing me by a meter or so.
The cow landed on its feet and seemed fine. I was fine to.
(Note from transcribing son: TIL my Mom could post a TIFU called "TIFU by almost crushing my husband with a cow". Now that would get some upvotes!)