Centre opens window on Bateman

It is designed to cenvey a sense of the wildlife painter's artistic journey

The Robert Bateman Centre will offer more than the artist’s wildlife paintings. Visitors will also gain an intimate glimpse into Bateman’s artistic inspiration.

The centre, the first tenant in the refurbished historic CPR Steamship Terminal on Belleville Street, will offer visitors a wide variety of Bateman’s vision and motivation. It’s a view to include modern multimedia as well as paintings in oil. But everything comes with a very personal familiarity.

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“I guess what we are really trying to do is reflect what it feels like to be in Bateman’s [Saltspring Island] home,” Paul Gilbert, executive director of the Bateman Foundation said Friday during a media tour.

“Hopefully, people will come away and feel like they had a visit with him.”

When it opens on May 25, the Robert Bateman Centre will be a new beginning for the CPR Steamship Terminal building. Originally designed by noted Victoria architects P.L. James and Francis Rattenbury, it opened in 1924 to funnel ship passengers.

Later, the building was home to the Royal London Wax Museum. But in 2010, after 40 years, the wax museum vacated. Subsequently, the building’s owner, the Provincial Capital Commission, spent $5 million on seismic upgrades.

The Greater Victoria Harbour Commission has taken it over on a lease to be rented out. Lower floors will be filled with a restaurant, Romers. Upper floors will be taken over by the Robert Bateman Foundation.

The Robert Bateman Centre will feature at least 160 artistic works, many of them original paintings. But it will also contain features and exhibits to provide more in-depth look at the 83-year-old artist.

On entry, visitors will pass through a small theatre and watch a short film on the artist and his ideas. In the walls, niches, like ones in Bateman’s own home, will feature examples of his sculptures.

Local craftsmen were hired to construct wooden dividers from native woods. These were designed after fences, also found at Bateman’s home.

Inside the gallery, spaces have been divided up to reveal various aspects of Bateman’s artistic vision.

Local technologists have also installed computerized extras to increase the breadth and depth of the experience.

In some galleries, visitors can use a tablet to select pictures from a digital gallery that can be projected on the wall. They can even be digitally marked for inclusion into book.

Another small gallery will focus on Bateman’s paintings of birds. The viewer can activate a sound system to play the songs of the birds featured in the art. These recordings can even be played at the same time, giving the visitor a sense of being in a forest filled with bird song.

Works inspired by Africa, where Bateman first set himself to be a representational artist, will be featured in one space. Mammals and human landscapes will be in others. One gallery will feature works meant to offer social commentary, usually in defence of the natural environment.

There will even be one interactive space for small children.

Tying the whole centre experience together will be Bateman himself, not in person, but rather his inspirations, insights and vision.

There is even a small gallery showing some of his earliest works. These include paintings created when he was as young as 13 and include one painting for his mother.

“It’s a big show and there is a lot in it, but it’s a chance for the viewer to walk through Bateman’s entire life,” Gilbert said.

“It’s very much an insight, as much as I can reveal, into what makes Robert Bateman tick.”

rwatts@timescolonist.com

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