Celebrated Canadian nature artist Robert Bateman is opening a new gallery in Victoria this weekend, but the artist says the aim is to do much more than showcase his work.

The Robert Bateman Centre, whose doors open on his 83rd birthday, will display the largest exhibit of original works by the popular wildlife artist. There will be 10 galleries in the centre, including one devoted to his paintings of British Columbia and another for works from Africa.

Since his earliest sketches, Bateman's passion for the natural world has taken him around the globe. Now the artist says strolling though his new gallery, which features some of the first bird sketches he made as a boy, is like a walk down memory lane.

"My first emotion I guess when I walk in: 'Oh, here's a whole bunch of old friends, or old enemies ... oh, I haven't seen that one for a long time and that one and that one,'" he told CBC Reporter Duncan McCue during a recent tour.

But what led Bateman to open the centre was not a yearning for nostalgia, but his determination to conserve nature and help people reconnect with the outdoor world that he spent his life documenting and seeking to protect.

And there's no hiding Bateman's politics in many of the paintings — waterfowl covered in goo from ruptured pipelines, seals trapped in fishing nets, a forest clear cut — all commentaries on the destruction caused by our disconnection from nature, he says.

bateman-everglades

Everglades, painted by Robert Bateman in 1986, is the artist's largest work at 1.7 metres and will be given prominent display at the Robert Bateman Centre in Victoria. (Bateman Foundation)

"For some cockamamie reason, for the first time in the history of the planet, parents — especially mothers — say it's too dangerous to go outside," he says.

"The mothers think, 'Well if the kid is busy with a screen, he's safe, he's not going to fall out of a tree, he's not going to get abducted.' Yes, but have you ever heard of internet predators? Have you ever heard of internet pornography? Have you ever heard of cyberbullying?"

"It's not dangerous to go outside. They need adult supervision inside the house, not outside, but they're not getting it," he says.

Bateman and the centre's executive director Paul Gilbert are hoping high-tech gadgetry can also be used to foster excitement for being in the wild in 21st century kids — visitors will be able to use a smart phone to bring up an online art tour that tells a little more about the wildlife and its habitat, as well as Bateman's artistic vision.

The pair says proceeds from the Robert Bateman Centre will also be used to fund nature programs to help more children discover adventure and joy outside.