Some of you may have read the first part of my little article on Frank Oates, an illustrator who came to my attention through the book ‘Match Fishing How to Join the Ranks of the Experts’. A small obituary in the York Press is the only source of information about the man, and it makes no mention of his incredible illustrations, which, to my mind deserve recognition as classic pieces of British outsider art.

Here’s some more of Oates artwork;


Observe the tight-jawed intensity on this mans face as he waits for the match fishing session to commence. Its enough to strike fear into the heart of any fish.


The page above is just gorgeous, although Oates’ approach to many aspects of drawing can be somewhat singular, this page proves his capabilities. Anyone who’s ever tried to draw fish will appreciate the economy with which he manages to capture the essential differences between the species. Even the crosshatching takes perfect account of scale size.


This one I would categorise as one of Oates’ existential pieces. It may not have been his intention, but I can’t look at it without reflecting that, essentially, we are all gudgeon in a keep net, and, though we may not weigh much individually, the weight soon adds up. I think it may have something to do with the almost medieval approach to depth of field and the strange pathos one feels for the little fish swimming around in the keep net.

fish 5

Something about the black umbrella and the water going up to heaven, reminds me of japanese prints, but one thing I’ve felt vey strongly whilst writing these two posts is a helplessness to really put my finger on just what makes these illustrations so great. I find them endlessly fascinating, psychological, beautiful, metaphorical, somehow heavy with a history that is as old as fishing itself, yet also imbued with a very modern sense of anxiety.

I hope that one day Frank Oates’ illustrations will find a wider audience, and that perhaps I’ve done my bit here to make that happen. In the mean time remember, keep your eyes peeled in the junk shop, you never know what lost genius you might uncover!


5 thoughts on “The Lost Genius of Frank Oates part 2

  1. Yeah, they’re great, Gareth. Like a cross between Chris Ware and Chris Reynolds. In the one with the gudgeon in the net, it’s all about the hand for me – maybe reaching for the fish, or maybe groping aimlessly as something yanks him back from behind, and out of frame. Also the confusion on whether it’s supposed to be isometric or in cross-section makes for an unsettling view. Not the most beautiful, but it has depths (pun unintended, but somewhat unavoidable).

  2. Frnank Oates was a great angler in the1940’s fishing for York, then became an anging journalist and historian. In the Second World war he worked at the MOD as a draughtsman , a talent which he then used to illustrate his books and angling articles.

      • Hi

        I have written many times about Frank Oates fishing career with the York Angling Association.

        John Essex

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