Robert Bateman speaks on camera about the importance of plein air painting.

Robert Bateman, one of the most successful representational artists working today, thinks plein air painting is very important — but not as an art form.

Bateman, whose resume is almost absurdly bejeweled with artistic accomplishments — including a solo show at the Smithsonian, sales to collections such as that of Prince Charles, and having three Canadian schools named after him — recently participated in the SKB workshop in Dubois, Wyoming. More than 175 artists attended the event, which is run by the Susan K. Black Foundation. While he was there, we asked him about his thoughts on plein air. His answers are partially presented in this YouTube video.

In addition to the comments in the video, Bateman told PleinAir Today about his embrace of photography, and his issue with some plein air work. The Vancouver artist is at the point where his level of success and experience frees him to be very outspoken. During his three-part, six-hour lecture at the workshop, Bateman ruffled some feathers (and smoothed others) with his praise for certain abstract expressionist artists and his criticism of wildlife art tropes. Bateman stressed the need for mystery in a painting.

“I think some plein air artists are in a rut,” he said at one point. “They go for the easy scene.” In contrast, Bateman pointed out the interesting compositions of Degas and Wyeth, both of whom seem to have a perspective inspired or influenced by photography. “Some plein air painters seem to have an aversion to the camera, while it might help them find a better or at least more interesting composition,” he said. Bateman at one point referred to Wyeth’s “Trodden Weed” as an example of a powerful design that only obliquely refers to nature and a plein air experience.


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