Bob Bateman says his most important painting is a dead dolphin

This article appeared in Diver Magazine. No, I didn't get a by-line. sigh. (And I am the travel editor). Here is the orginal story, it was edited before appearing in the November issue of Diver.

Art to inspire people to respect the planet
Bateman retrospective takes aim at industrial fishing

By Stephen Weir 11 September 2007

World-famous wildlife artist figures that the most important work he has painted isn’t a soaring eagle or a majestic lion, but rather it is a painting that shows a dead albatross and a drowned dolphin caught in a drift net. The canvas, entitled Driftnet, is the showcase work in a new traveling Bateman exhibition that will visit five cities in Canada and the United States over the next year and a half.

“ The scene is painted inside a drift net. There is a dead Pacific White-sided dolphin and a dead Lysan Albatross,” explained Robert Bateman at the opening of his exhibition at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection near Toronto last month. “ It is a common enough scene -- air breathing animals dying in a driftnet. They call it bycatch. My wife and I call it by-kill.”

According to the wildlife artist, in the 1980s it was estimated that 31,000 miles of driftnets were set each night in the Pacific. These drifting “walls of death” captured untold numbers of dolphins, whales, pelagic birds, sharks and turtles along with the targeted fish. Conservative estimates put this bycatch at 20% of the total commercial catch.

“ The United Nations has placed a moratorium on driftnet fishing, but, this highly destructive activity continues to be common practice in the Mediterranean Sea,” continued Bateman. “By-kill is a big part of what is wrong with industrial fishing. This is the devastation of an ecosystem and the impoverishment of our planet.”

The 77-year old artist was born, raised and educated in Toronto. After a lengthy career as a teacher in Ontario, Bateman moved to British Columbia, where he continues to paint. He is an ardent conservationist and has donated millions and millions of dollars to the World Wildlife Fund.

“It is not that I am against fishing,” he explained. “ I am against industrial fishing. We have managed to kill off 90% of the planet’s fisheries … just look at the cod stocks off the east coast. Industrial fishing is now using every high tech tool to strip the sea of that last 10%.”

“ We have become a Wal-Mart civilization where shopping is the answer to everything,” he told Diver Magazine. “We are spending our grandchildren’s money. If this (pointing at his Driftnet painting) isn’t stopped, those grandchildren will have a mighty debt to pay.”

The Bateman exhibition includes 50 wildlife paintings, a number of sketches, and sculptures and covers 40 years of his work. The Art of Robert Bateman was in Toronto until October 28th. The show has now traveled to the United States for a fourteen-month tour. The exhibition will open on November 24th 2007 at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska. Other stops on the tour include The Wildlife Experience, Denver, Colorado, the National Wildlife Art Museum in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and the San Diego Natural History Museum in San Diego, California.

“ The biggest message of my work?” Bateman asked. “Nature is fabulous, it is varied and full of endless surprises. But if society has no conscience ….”



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