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Penticton Art Gallery goes big, grabs Canadian icon Robert Bateman for summer show

Some artists transcend their craft. Like Warhol. Or Picasso.

<whho>Photo Credit: Birgit Freybe Bateman</who> Robert Bateman goes for a paddle

Even Bob Ross.

The Penticton Art Gallery scored big when they went all in on the latter in mid-2020. Outside, it was the summer of COVID. But in the Gallery, it was the summer of "Happy Little Accidents," the captivating Ross-centric show curator Paul Crawford and staff created for its summer time slot.

The numbers were stunning. Nearly 200 people on average per day visited the venue during the exhibit. Lineups stretched around the building. National news outlets came a-calling.

The guy is a known entity to virtually everyone, not just art lovers. And the show was magic.

This summer, Crawford and Company will try to recreate that magic when they stage yet another summer show celebrating yet another iconic figure – legendary Canadian wildlife/naturalist painter and indeed one of this country's most celebrated artists ever, Robert Bateman.

<who>Copyright Robert Bateman</who> Beltline Ravine, 11” x 13”, oil on board, 1950.

As a bonus, Bateman, now in his 90s, is scheduled to be in Penticton in the flesh for the exhibit's opening weekend in early July.

"The working title is 'Unexpected Bateman,'" said Gallery curator Paul Crawford Tuesday evening. "We're trying to look at the totality of his life's work, much like we did with Bob Ross. This is someone you can’t deny has had a big impact on our visual culture."

How big a deal is Bateman? Big enough that books on the Salt Spring Island resident have sold more than a million copies. Big enough that he has 14 honourary doctorates, is an Officer of the Order of Canada, and has had a one-man show at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC.

And big enough that there are a million-plus Bateman prints in circulation.

Crawford's distant relationship with the now-ubiquitous artist began in 1987 when he was hired to sell framed Robert Bateman bookplates at the local mall. Crawford, chuckling, says the operation was shutdown within the week.

<who>Copyright Robert Bateman</who> Tiger Trade, 36” x 36”, acrylic & gold leaf on canvas, 2008.

Six years later he read about Bateman getting his start as an abstract painter. Abstract? A wildlife realist churning out abstract art? Crawford needed to know more, so he wrote him.

Soon he received a reply, complete with a signed Bateman abstract from 1963. Crawford thought that was pretty cool.

Then last spring Crawford and wife Julie Fowler had an opportunity to meet Bateman at his Salt Spring Island compound. Naturally, they jumped at the chance.

"The first thing I saw when I walked in the door were more abstracts, from other artists. So I threw out this idea of a show at the Gallery, exploring where it all started, how it evolved."

And that’s what we'll see this summer. The working title of the exhibit is "Unexpected Bateman." Fully one third of the show will be his early works from the 1940s and '50s. Crawford says to expect 100-plus works in total, and the man himself for the opening weekend.

'Unexpected Bateman,' as it's currently known, will run from the first week of July through the second week of September. Admission, as always, will be free, though donations are appreciated.

Turn here for more info on the Penticton Art Gallery, and more info on the show when it’s posted.

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