Robert Bateman is a Canadian artist. He’s one of the most celebrated wildlife painters.
His paintings start selling for close to $20,000, and it goes up from there.
I suspect he doesn’t remember but I met him once.
It was late 2006. I was still in journalism school but I had already landed a job working as a reporter for a suburban newspaper.
When you worked at suburban newspapers as a reporter in those days, you were a writer, a page layout specialist (typesetter in earlier decades), and a photojournalist.
In this case, it was the latter of the three roles that brought me into contact with Robert Bateman. He made a trip from his Salt Spring Island — a gorgeous island between Vancouver Island and B.C.’s lower mainland — to make an appearance at mall gallery just outside Edmonton, AB.
I was assigned by my editor to snap some photos of the Toronto-born painter during his appearance later that week so we could publish one in the next edition.
My editor had told me Bateman was “a famous artist or something.” Clearly, a resounding affirmation of Bateman’s renown.
But, in those days, I had no clue who this guy was. My editor had told me Bateman was “a famous artist or something.” Clearly, a resounding affirmation of Bateman’s renown.
Typically, we called these types of photo assignments “grip and grins” because the subject was usually holding something or standing with someone and smiling — saying cheese — for the camera.
“Grip and grins” are the most boring photo you can be assigned when you’re a photojournalist. There really is no skill involved in shooting the photo, which I always found aggravating. I liked shooting creative photos.
Regardless, like a good journalist, I dove right in and did my research.
It consisted of driving to pick up my artist fiancé after her university classes finished for the day, venting about needing to take a “grip and grin” of this “famous artist or something,” and completely forgetting his name.
The ensuing conversation went something like this:
“You seriously don’t remember his name?” my now-wife asked.
“Um, not really,” I replied, “He was Canadian but it wasn’t one I knew.”
“But you only know Donatello, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo… and me,” she retorted as I waited for oncoming traffic to clear up so I could make a left turn.
I couldn’t argue with that. She was right. I did name them my all-star team.
In those days, I didn’t know much about artists. In fact, I slept through most of the lone university Art History course I had taken a couple years earlier.
Undaunted, she started rattling off names of famous Canadian artists.
“Bateman, Colville, Riopelle, Martin…”
She started rattling off names.
“Wait!” I said, “What was the second one you said?”
“Alex Colville,” she said.
“No, that’s not it,” I replied, “Who else did you say?”
“Bateman…” she said.
“That’s it,” I replied before she could get the rest out.
“Yes! I would know that name anywhere,” I replied, as she rolled her eyes with exasperation in the seat next to me. (Bless her heart for sticking with me even before we were married.)
Of course, my research didn’t end there. She explained to me how famous he really was and how much his paintings sold for, which had me dreaming of grandeur for her.
Alas, we’re still working on achieving that grandeur, but I did meet “a famous artist or something.”
And, it’s probably just as well that he wouldn’t remember because, if it weren’t for my artist fiancé, I wouldn’t have even remembered his name before I showed up to snap that “grip and grin.”