Art and Activism 

Robert Bateman paints what he loves and says what he believes

Who: Robert Bateman

What: Brackendale Winter Eagle Festival Natural World Lecture Series

Where: Brackendale Art Gallery

When: Saturday, Jan. 10

Tickets: $15

Internationally renowned Canadian realist wildlife artist Robert Bateman can breathe easy when he takes the stage tomorrow evening to discuss "Eagles and other Flagship Species," part of this year’s Natural World Lecture Series at the Brackendale Art Gallery’s Winter Eagle Festival.

He will almost certainly be preaching to the choir – that is, fellow conservationists gathered in a Brackendale art oasis independently run by a man Bateman calls a "kindred spirit," gallery owner Thor Froslev.

It will be Bateman and his wife Birgit’s 15 th year of association with the festival.

Tomorrow’s assembly of fans of Bateman’s art, as well as his very public conservation efforts, will likely nod thoughtfully when he points out the dangers of industrial farming, fishing and forestry. The majority will support his view that society would be better off by mending its gluttonous ways and moving toward a simpler way of living.

But not everyone Bateman presents to is quite so supportive. He relates a recent talk he gave at an annual convention of industrial logging companies in Vancouver, describing his delivery as "I socked it to them," and pulling no punches with ideas he knew were "unreconcilable with the industrial approach to nature."

Classic Bateman. As one of Canada’s most distinguished artists, he refuses to hide his environmental activism under a cloak of mainstream acceptance, whether speaking to toxicologists in Washington D.C. or writing expositions for the Globe and Mail condemning neo-conservative ideologues for promoting destruction.

"I believe in playing all bases and communicating with everybody," he says, speaking mildly but with conviction.

He has the type of voice that could calm the sea.

He is in fact by the sea right now, speaking over the phone from the Saltspring Island home he shares with his wife, photographer Birgit Freybe Bateman. While he converses, he mentions he is in the process of painting a bobcat. His words are suddenly even richer with the new knowledge that they are accompanied by brush strokes breathing life into another depiction on canvas of one more inhabitant of a rapidly shrinking natural world.

It’s a world Bateman is adamantly focused on protecting through involvement in countless conservation organizations and initiatives. Now in his 70s, he looks back through the years and rather than lauding society’s accumulations, rues all that has been lost.


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