One Foot in the Past 29.6.16
West Lawn School, mid 1960s and a trail of pupils file into the quad, turn right (woe betide those who fail to observe the anti-clockwise rule) to enter the first classroom for a session of art. Familiar with the fact that their teacher Mr Yates looks uncannily like Van Gogh, they revel in his laid back approach. He orders the edgy ones to go to the Headmaster, Mr Martin, yet races ahead to stop them reaching the door and certain punishment. Ian Nathan remembers his art teacher with the broad north country dialect in great detail. “Fred Yates was an artist who just happened to be teaching – probably to keep body and soul together. When he left Teignmouth, he donated several of his works to the school.” His fame had yet to be won and some say the paintings were later sold. “Three of his large canvases were displayed above the podium in the hall and each morning in Assembly, when I was about 12, I used to study them.” They inspired Ian who says that Fred’s art classes were the only bearable part of attending school. “Mr Yates kept awarding me commendations for my painting and each time I had to go up before the whole school and I asked him to stop awarding them to me!” Jeanette Murphy flagged up the local connection with Fred Yates and another pupil Marcia Pyne was able to provide this school photograph. In the mid 1960s, Ian’s father Noel acquired some sepia coloured paints and discovered that he also had a gift and the pair explored their art in the attic studio of their home beside the New Quay. Fred had shown his pupils how to squeeze a worm of colour from the tube direct to canvas and finger it, rather than brush it, into leaves, water, rocks. Ian’s two earliest paintings as a teenager show his potential.
“The smell of the paint and the sensations are still vivid – it seems such a short time ago.” But the finger of fate poked Ian’s shoulder, blew him off course into the world of dance for a while.
“Years later I saw Fred on the beach at St Ives – he was painting furiously in just a pair of underpants! He had become quite famous in Cornwall and worked there for a long time.” Ian’s final encounter with Fred was in a Penzance tea room when the older man had chance to understand how much he had influenced his former school pupil. Fred Yates moved to France and died in 2008 at the age of 85. Ian continues to paint significant canvases at his Ringmore studio.
Photograph 1 Courtesy Marcia Smyth
Fred Yates with West Lawn School pupils 1960s.