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Visual Virtuoso

UMass exhibit celebrates Roxbury-born watercolorist

Celina Colby | 9/13/2017, 11:44 a.m.
“Richard Yarde: Portraits” is an intimate but dynamic exhibit of works by the Roxbury native and UMass teacher, who is ...
“Josephine” are two of the works by Roxbury-born artist Richard Yarde featured at the University Hall Gallery at UMass Boston. Stephen Petegorsky

Josephine Baker’s visage demands attention from the moment visitors step into the University Hall Gallery at UMass Boston. “Richard Yarde: Portraits,” an intimate but dynamic exhibit on view until Oct. 27, features a number of figures, but Baker’s portrait exudes the effusive charm she bore in real life.

Mugshot 2

Mugshot 2

A Roxbury native and UMass teacher, Yarde (1939-2011) is known for his prolific and expert use of watercolor. He blends colors with a patchwork technique that can be seen in one scale or another in almost all of the works in this exhibition. The use of such a fluid medium for a geometric portrayal demonstrates the control of a master painter.

“One of the things that was so intriguing about Richard was that his portraits are often overlooked,” says curator Carol G.J. Scollans. “I thought it was a really poignant time to show these cultural figures.”

One of these is Inman Page, one of the first two African American graduates of Brown University. The portrait was given to Ralph Waldo Ellison, author of “The Invisible Man,” who had been a student of Inman’s and long admired him. The images represent a long history of African American talent and community support.

When Yarde wasn’t painting the famous and influential, he turned inward. After a series of medical problems he began creating exploratory self-portraits. “Back with Dots” reads like a clinical study you might find in a medical book. Against a black background we see Yarde’s body, twice over from behind. His arms hang by his sides. In one he appears to stand straighter, or perhaps be younger, than the other. This may be a meditation on his healthier days.

In the 1990s Yarde created a “Mug Shot” series that continues to resonate, in light of media coverage of police brutality. He collected photos and rap sheets of African American “criminals” and painted their portraits. Many were arrested with little or no reason and prosecuted outside of the law. In the paintings Yarde separates the individuals from their supposed crimes, showing us their humanity as folks suffering from these racist arrests.

Yarde represents a legion of unknown and underrepresented African American artists. “Richard Yarde: Portraits” pulls his impressive body of work out from the dark and reminds Boston of the talent born on the city’s streets. The gallery will be hosting a public reception and fundraiser Sept. 28, from 5-7:30 p.m. Amidst the breadth of work represented, Josephine Baker won’t be the only thing to capture your attention.