40 Prominent People | Robert Bateman

Robert Bateman
Painter • Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

Robert Bateman

Distinction: Bateman is perhaps the most widely known wildlife painter in North America.
What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the art world during your career? There’s been a massive change. In 1948, when I was 18, an artist friend from New York told me, “You can’t do real art with a small brush; it has to be a big brush and slapped on.” So I became an impressionist, post-impressionist, and cubist—I did cubist deer and cubist cottontail rabbits. Then in 1962 another artist said, “Have you been to see Andrew Wyeth at the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, NY?” I went down there and I literally fell off my abstract horse that evening. Wyeth let me know it was now okay to pay attention to particularity, and small brushes and subject matter were back in.
How do you define success? What I call success is how I’m thought of by my peers, and among my peers I seem to be respected, and people tell me I’ve been an influence on other artists. Last year I was given the first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award by the Society of Animal Artists.
People would be surprised to learn that … I don’t pay attention to, or care about, sales. Anything to do with money or numbers my wife takes care of.
Where do you find inspiration? From all parts of my life, and it always comes as a surprise. A painting of a cardinal in a sumac tree came from seeing an Indian villager in a red turban walk by a terra cotta wall, and I thought, Wow! Red on red: cardinal in a sumac tree.
What role has Southwest Art magazine played in your career? It’s been part of a whole mosaic of all kinds of things: shows, books, prints. It’s certainly an honor to be included and to be in the company of artists I really respect, and that can’t be said of all art magazines.
Describe yourself in one word. Sharing. I don’t think of myself as ambitious, but at the end of the day I do want to think my little world has changed for the better. I want people to see my work; I want to share it.

Featured in “40 Prominent People” in May 2011.

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