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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Richard Yarde-Work Colors in Campus

Roxbury residents have something to be proud of. It’s not Dudley Square  or  the town’s rich history.  It is former  Roxbury resident  Richard Yarde, the premier  African -American watercolorist of our time.  What sets this man apart is his control of the medium. Watercolors are tricky to say the least.  Other less familiar artists use it the paint oozes and dribbles over the paper, but there is no ooze here, no trickling or spattered paint.  Only deep swaths of  rich opaque color and quick yet planned  lines. The result is making a notoriously wayward medium look entirely new. Comparisons to Winslow Homer, a 19th century watercolorist, are entirely warranted. The bold color and deliberate detail is on display in the Art department’s main office in his work entitled The Emperor.   Born in 1939, some of Yarde’s first works were watercolors of the street that he lived on. He stayed in the city for his college education, receiving both his B.FA. And M.F.A  from Boston University.  Yet, unlike many successes in the art world he did not flee to New York City but stayed in his hometown, teaching in the University of Massachusetts Boston’s art department until 1990. He currently is on the faculty at Umass Amherst.The Emperor was painted early in his career, 1984. It is a portrait of iconic African-American musician, athlete and activist Paul Robeson. Robeson is depicted in the painting in his Brutus Jones costume from the play Emperor Jones by Eugene O’ Neil. O’Neil’s Emperor was a regal thug, a willful man with a great deal of skeletons in his closet.  Paul Robeson played Brutus Jones on the stage and screen. In a time of painful segregation, the play and film  did  extremely well showing in the US and Europe.  Yarde’s work tackles the eeriness of the play and its title character.  The painting is based off of a publicity photograph by Edward Steichen, now owned by the Cleveland Museum of Art. Yarde literally twists the image, not repainting it as a plain rectangle to frame the subject, but an oblong of  layered green and black that surrounds the man. The realism with which the  actor is rendered is astounding.  The same mystery and  distrust of the eyes of  the character in the photo are glaring back out at the viewer of the painting. The subject is obviously filled with a profound suspicion, no smile or visible excitement. There is only a  right hand tucked conspicuously into the breast of his royal blue military jacket. And what a jacket it is. Yarde renders the clothing with great detail, the  buttons and tassels are described in a burnt orange hue. The artists choice of  mostly cool colors  adds another layer of emotion for the viewer. The Emperor may appear to be a dapper man, but don’t get too close.  The fact that the artist can capture Robeson with photographic realism is astounding, but don’t even begin to think the Yarde is a one trick pony. In his last exhibition,  Ringshout, curated by our own Professor Carol Scollans, Richard Yarde explored the abstract. Large indigo circles,  reminiscent  of medicine wheels were painted for an instillation at the Worcester Museum of Art.  The show proved at this stage in his career, Richard Yarde can do what he wants with ease.    If you have not found a way to celebrate Black History month yet, let me make  a suggestion.  When you have a free moment, make your way to the Art Department on the McCormack’s 4th floor. Then ask to see the Richard Yarde.