Some time ago I came across a book from the late 1950’s entitled ‘Match Fishing – How to Join the Ranks of the Experts’ by Frank Oates. It’s a fairly straightforward albeit somewhat humourless account of how to catch lots of fish and much is made in the foreword of Frank Oates’ expertise in this field.
Not a word however refers to his strange, dark, beautiful and completely singular illustrations, which surely mark him out as one of Britain’s great outsider artists.
I’m fascinated by the amazing neatness and precision of his line work and his almost obsessive reliance on horizontal line. In particular the treatment of water, reflecting a fascination with surface (and what might lie beneath the surface) typical of an angler.
This precision only heightens the impact of occasions where Oates abandons the normal rules of scale and perspective.
This strange, theatrical and highly dramatic image is surely worthy of any surrealist.
These images convey an almost Zen like calm but at the same time a spooky vacancy almost Kafkaesque in tone. As if the power of the anglers attention has succeeded in obliterating the entire universe, leaving only an absent scaffold of horizontal line.
Other than asserting Oates’ angling credentials the foreword of ‘Match Fishing’ by someone called Major B.J.Halliday, M.C., MM is two pages of missed opportunity for anyone who may have wanted to know anything about the artist. Instead it soon descends into an account of how the Major differs with Oates on the subject of hook sizes.
The internet yields very little also, other than this obituary where we learn that Oates was married to Lillian for 70 years was better known for his bird watching than his angling. But again not a word about his illustration.
This mystery and neglect only serves to increase my fervent desire to share his weird works with the world. Stay tuned for part two where I’ll be sharing some more thoughts on this undiscovered illustrator.