Bateman New Works by Robert Bateman

Published by Greystone Books, 2010, $55

     There is a review of this book in our Winter issue, but I’ve written my own, longer take on this book for this blog because it would make a great Christmas gift for nature and art lovers. This is a significant collection of artist Robert Bateman’s work from the late ‘90s to 2009. Containing 120 large photographs of his full-colour and black and white works, its subjects are from North America, Africa and Asia. The majority are wildlife, his specialty, although there are landscapes with people, with no animal at all, and some with creatures barely discernible, either shown at a great distance or camouflaged by their surroundings.

     Short essays by Bateman throughout the book explain his inspirations for the works or his response to the subject, giving fascinating insight. In the artist’s statement, he addresses some criticism of his work, explaining that after experimenting with every style from impressionism to abstract expressionism, he decided that realism was the only style that would work for his passion for nature. This reminds me of Picasso. People at first hated his groundbreaking styles, and he had to remind them that he had first conquered traditional realism. Ironically, Bateman has garnered wrath for having the audacity to do the opposite.

     Bateman addresses the complaint that wildlife is seen as being too pretty, by stating that art doesn’t always have to be ugly. His essays also emphasize the abstract qualities of some of his work, and how he explores form and shape in nature, not just portraiture.

     Despite Bateman’s concern for the loss of wildlife and nature, there always seems to be an optimistic aspect to his work. His dark and moody “Old Buggy and Winter Birds” is prevented from conveying Gothic loss and unease by the presence of a bright red male and female cardinal that turns the work in the direction of a cheerful, nostalgic Christmas card.

     It seems that as long as there are animals, Bateman will show their beauty, dignity and persistent survival. This attitude may be the reason for Bateman’s tremendous popularity and success.

     If you’re a fan of Bateman, what do you like about his work? If not, why not? 

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