Alan Bateman can tell you exactly where each of his paintings is set and almost all of them are within a one-kilometre radius of his home outside Canning.
“That’s my range,” says the high realist painter, having his first solo show in Halifax in 15 years at Secord Gallery to Nov. 22.
“For writers it’s write what you know, and for me it’s paint what you know.”
Bateman’s 17 paintings on Masonite are of the land, people and creatures in his daily life.
His masterful large piece, Winter Maple 2013, is marked on the back, “North side of Woodside Road Canning, 1 kilometre east of home.”
“Holly and I walk pretty much every day,” says Bateman, who is married to silk painter Holly Carr. “That’s a kilometre down the road and there are some semi-tortured maples.”
The battle-scarred maple tree is at the painting’s front and centre with a view back to wild apple trees from an abandoned orchard and the North Mountain in winter. Light baths the textured bark of the maple.
“The light is from the west. I’m a sucker for that kind of lighting, the low lighting.
“Light gives form to things, especially this low light throwing shadows on the tree,” he says in an interview at the gallery. “It’s what’s fun to paint, making certain parts glow and giving them mass.”
Bateman’s father is Canadian wildlife artist Robert Bateman and his mother, Suzanne Lewis, is also an artist. He was born in Nigeria in 1965, spent his early childhood in Burlington, Ont., and moved to Dartmouth with his mother, sister and brother when he was eight, spending summers with his father in Ontario’s Haliburton Highlands.
He started painting as a teenager and his first painting was of a barn owl. “I floundered when I was 13 and 14 and I was doing wildlife art because that’s what was around me and that’s what Dad was doing. I have to credit the art college for helping me break out of that and find my own voice.”
He studied printmaking and art education at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. “Those departments weren’t as concerned with art trends as they were with helping you think about art and develop your own interests.
“I started doing woodcuts of the rocks and boulders at Peggys Cove and that sent me off in a different tangent. I realized there was beauty around me, it didn’t have to be animal.”
(This show, however, does include an aggressive goose from Ross Farm, a horse’s head and robins in a line of four in a field one spring evening.)
Bateman, inspired by Andrew Wyeth and Atlantic Canadian realists Alex Colville, Tom Forrestall and Christopher and Mary Pratt for “making realism OK,” says his artistic path was not determined by his father. “I don’t think I’m in his footsteps and I don’t think I’ve spurned his path.”
This exhibit includes a painting of Robert Bateman from the Haliburton Highlands. He is seen in an aerial view in a pool as he sits in his wooden Minto canoe and holds his cherry wood paddle.
Bateman met his wife at NSCAD. The two have lived for 23 years in a 200-year-old farmhouse outside Canning where they have raised their two children.
“I constantly am asking her to look at my painting because she has a fresh eye and to see if anything looks quirky or odd.”
Light is key for Bateman. It exalts places he may have passed by hundreds of times.
Light from a flaming roasted marshmallow inspired his mysterious painting of a young girl holding a torch, as if she were one of the Starks from the book and TV series Game of Thrones. The girl is his daughter Lily at 12.
“Every Thanksgiving we have a fire at night. I saw all the kids lighting their marshmallows on fire and it struck me as being like a torch giving off this glow. They’re almost medieval but for me it’s a little bit of Canadiana. These are the stars in the western sky.”
It’s one of his favourite paintings, “maybe because it’s Lily,” he says. “I like painting night scenes. I want it to be like your eye has to get used to the dark to see her shoes and a hint of the glow in the grass.”
His portrait of his golden retriever River was inspired by the low light “skimming our little valley.”
The light streaks across a tree’s base at the same diagonal as River’s pointed nose and shoulders.
“I was trying to do a noble, classical, dog portrait. If you see the outtakes of the photos, it was a crazy golden retriever not knowing what was going on!”
He loved painting all the leaves in this picture. “Once I got over the panic that there were so many and how to imply them and paint a few.”
Bateman’s painting of his wife, seen from her blue back while she holds garden flowers, was inspired by back light hitting the orange poppies.
“I’m sort of the gardener and Holly is in charge of the inside of the house and she’s clipping flowers for the house. It’s just her, after grabbing poppies. I’m looking for these sorts of moments. It’s a half still life, half real life moment.”
Carr’s burnished dark hair is beautiful but, as Bateman points out, not overly detailed.
“I want the illusion of realism without painting every hair or every thread (of clothing). I’m not trying to achieve a photograph.
“I want the essence. They are more places and moments in time. Sometimes I feel every title should be a date.
“They end up sort of being the diary of my life. If I had a retrospective, you could walk through it the way I walk through my life.”
While this is his first solo show in Halifax in 15 years, he has been busy with solo and group exhibits in Toronto, Edmonton and Victoria in Canada, and in Ohio, Oregon and Minnesota in the U.S. He will have two paintings in Capture 2014: Nova Scotian Realism, an exhibit of work by 28 artists, curated by Tom Smart, and running Jan. 16 to March 9 at the Dalhousie Art Gallery, Halifax.
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By ELISSA BARNARD ARTS REPORTER