Robert Bateman – The Power of Negative Thinking

In Strathcona county, near Edmonton, the tar-sands are yielding to twenty-first century demands. The valuable fuel which has been present there for so long cannot fight back against investor hunger and consumer waste. Enter Gateway Initiatives. Their plan to ship oil from the Athabaska Region to Kitimat has prompted some near panic in the Environmental movement. Because the oil doesn’t stay in Kitimat. The plan is to ship it in oil tankers south through the Douglas Channel’s spectacularly awesome waterway.

Robert Bateman Unveiling a Sign Naming a Parkette in Toronto, Ontario After Him, Photo by Paul Henman, Flickr

Robert Bateman Unveiling a Sign Naming a Parkette in Toronto, Ontario After Him, Photo by Paul Henman, Flickr

People who care about preserving the pristine wilderness areas of Canada are worried that oil spills are inevitable, and following them, habitat comprise and wildlife extinctions are inevitable. Earth lovers have nightmarish visions of oil spills happening on average every three years. The Dogwood Initiatives website serves as the repository of much of the statistical and anecdotal pictures of the harm that could be unleashed by regular oil tanker traffic.

Robert Bateman is one of Canada’s treasures, blessed with the gift of bringing wild creatures and scenes to life on canvas. His pictures are stunning, as is the price of his creations. The public cannot ever get enough of his work, and many are willing to pay steep prices to acquire a genuine Bateman. So, when Bateman loaded up his black paintbrush on March 24th 2010, and obliterated a beautiful scene with orcas swimming freely, it made no sense to me. This was his protest against the proposed Gateway initiatives. He fears oil spills and their aftermath, and obliterated one of his pictures in protest. It was a sad sight.

Broadcast on the Dogwood Initiatives website, the video shows Bateman engaged in smearing his breathtaking artwork with stroke after stroke of ugly blackness. This form of protest is lost on many people who feel that two negatives do not make a positive. I am one of them. It just makes no sense.

Bateman wants to protest an action which he feels may harm the environment. So he destroys something that is a depiction of that environment in an effort to draw attention to his condemnation of the imminent threat. But the painting he destroyed was probably worth a considerable sum of money. If he had auctioned it, or raffled it, or simply sold it, he could have used the money to set up his own campaign against the Gateway Initiative. The result of this type of protest is usually lost on those not present when the deed was done. To counter this disadvantage, the whole thing can be seen on the Dogwood Initiatives site at any time. But it still rings hollow for me.

When all’s said and done about this protest, we’re left with an intact oil tanker shipping plan and a very ugly canvas. If the picture had been used as a money-making tool to swell the Anti-Gateway lobby’s coffers, we would still have the picture, and the funds to hold public information events, debates and presentations which would inform the public about the Dogwood agenda.

I feel that Bateman’s actions, though well-intentioned, were ultimately ineffective. I quite understand the symbolism involved in obliterating that lovely, natural scene with an oily overlay. I do not understand how Bateman’s actions will help change government minds or in what way it will increase public knowledge about a perceived environmental danger.