When Richard Yarde made this self-portrait around 1976, he had already entered his second decade as a painter and professor at some of the most prestigious private colleges in New England—quite an accomplishment for a child of Barbadian immigrants raised in Roxbury, the center of Boston’s African-American community. Childhood classes at the city’s Museum of Fine Arts and the later encouragement of one of his teachers at Boston University convinced him to pursue a life in art.
Here, the setting is intimate, domestic—perhaps his home in Northampton, Massachusetts—but Yarde transforms the commonplace room into something monumental in this large-scaled painting carefully composed of blocks of high-keyed color. He looks at himself in the mirror and paints his likeness, attempting to turn the canvas itself into a mirror of his identity. All the drama of this work resides in the implicit question Yarde poses as he looks at his reflection: can this medium of painting, which for so long has seen me as an object, be made to capture my proper likeness? Can it be bent to my purposes and become a true mirror of myself?