Published 1st November 2019
PICTURE THIS ........ It's all about the paint for Fred Yates.
Fred Yates was born in Lancashire on a Summer day in 1922. A lazy search of the Internet throws-up enough information to piece together a brief biography, some of which is probably true. Yates was sensitive and gentle in manner, also reclusive and could 'lose himself' while immersed in painting. He is described as 'untaught' and 'untutored', which rather contradicts his 'formal education in drawing, printmaking and painting' in Bournemouth, and his scholarship to Rome.
In 1954, Yates was judged second in a painting competition and there was possibly a mixture of excitement and relief for the shy and retiring Yates, as the declared winner of the competition was LS Lowry, an admired and an acknowledge influence on Yates. By the time of his prize-winning, Yates and his generation had lived through a War. He had served with the Grenadier Guards and probably the most profound effect of the War on Yates was the loss of his twin brother, posted missing-in-action during an assault at Arnhem in September 1944.
It is impossible for most of us to imagine the effects a personal tragedy like this and what the other events of the War would have. One effect of the trauma on Yates was a sense of isolation and, having lost his brother, a fear of forming close relationships.
In the late 1960s, a progressively more reclusive and private Yates decided to commit more to his passion for painting and he moved to Cornwall, where he painted plein air using collected materials and household paints. In 1976, he held a solo show in Plymouth, eventually making an exhibition in London in 1992. Yates' paintings are in the British tradition of Lowry and Alfred Wallis, each of whom has been described as solitary, self-taught and naive, but all who have a particular popular appeal.
So, why do 'we' like paintings by Fred Yates, and for that matter Lowry, Wallis, Helen Bradley and the more contemporary Simeon Stafford? Maybe we don't all like them and these untraditional painters have certainly had their detractors in the past. Do we sheepishly become influenced by fashion and the zeitgeist? Are we persuaded we like something, or do we persuade ourselves?
Look carefully at paintings by Yates. They are well observed and sensitively capture vignettes of contemporary life. Yates set out to paint pictures of the lives of ordinary people: "It's the man in the street that I'm after ........ he is the one I want to please and enchant by means of my work".
The style and technique of Yates creates tactile three-dimensional-feeling images somewhere within deep, thick impasto. And within these bulging, crested surfaces is where our attention tends to focus and this becomes a point of difference.
The Yates surfaces are emphasised by their volume and presence and we become obsessed with them. Before we know it, our attention is deflected and we are drawn-in, engaged and immersed deep within the scene and the paint and impasto. Form and composition in the paintings are dominated by the physical mass of the surface and our tactile-visual engagement enlivens and stimulates senses of touch and sound and smell.
Now we are hooked. Appreciation of a painting doesn't have to be based in fact or evidence or vision. I recall serious and academic articles and lectures about Mark Rothko and his monumental abstract 'floating fields of colour' canvases, and discussions about the picture surface and meaning. Rational would say that the picture surface, where the paint on the canvas, is what it is all about and, therefore, comes first and foremost. But as the debate heated-up, maybe the picture and the purpose and meaning of the painting, didn't actually exist there on the surface. Maybe to read and understand the picture we had to experience and feel it 'somewhere else' other than on the physical surface of the canvas. What a ridiculous proposition; or is it?
Paintings by Fred Yates (1922-2008) regularly come-up at our auctions in Exeter and typically make from £500 to £5,000.
Fred Yates was written on Friday, 1st November 2019.