Monday, March 24, 2008

Paint It Black

Last week, a famous British Columbian painter, Robert Bateman, posted a video on Youtube called "Not a Pretty Picture." Bateman has spent his life painting the landscape and wildlife of Northern Canada -- his paintings are in the Smithsonian, and without going too far into it I found one painting listed in an on-line auction for $90,000. They are lovely.

The purpose of the video is to try to prevent the passage of oil tankers through the region. In the video, the 78 year-old artists paints his own painting black.


According to an article in the Vancuver Sun last week,

"Fears over tanker traffic in B.C. waters have escalated since Enbridge Inc. last month rekindled plans for a $4-billion pipeline from the Alberta oilsands to Kitimat.

If the pipeline is approved, the port would be expanded and crude oil shipped by tanker to overseas markets."

I'll look more into the exploration in BC another morning, but right now I am simply transfixed by this video in which the painter takes one of his own images of the magnificent water way -- filled with whales and birds -- and paints it black.

"We have to think about what can happen to thousands of organisms if there is an oil spill, and we know these can be treacherous waters, from what happened to the Queen of the North and the Exxon Valdez," Bateman said."

Okay -- it looses something -- well, a lot -- to find out the depicted "Orca Procession" a reproduction.

"The picture on the easel is a print, not the original, he admitted slightly reluctantly. It is, however, a digitally reproduced limited edition, probably worth a couple of thousand dollars."

But I love this.

For one thing, he paints beautifully, even as he tries to be ugly with it. His strokes are elegant and his work comes through even here. It's such a violent thing -- the covering over and the blanketing -- an allusion to the image of the landscape after the Valdez spill. Rocks coated, birds coated, a wildlife destroyed.

One of the comments on Youtube said, "oil is a natural substance. The Exxon Valdez disaster was one of the largest so called spills and as little of time as 19 years you have a full recovery. Why? because crude oil is a natural substance. If this substance bubbles up from the bottom of the ocean floor then what. I say lets burn and use as much as possible before it comes to the surface, including off the coast of BC."

But of course, this isn't true. The land and the lifestyle there was devastated and has never returned to what it was. I read somewhere the other day that Exxon is the single most profitable corporation in the history of the free market.

By the way, I looked into oil paint ingredients a few months ago -- vegetable oil; usually linseed, I believe.

Robert Bateman's site is at
The Youtube video is here

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