Richard Yarde attended art classes as a child in Boston, where his parents settled after emigrating from Barbados. He began working in watercolor, and by his teens had been accepted into Boston University. His early career dealt primarily with themes from African American history. Yarde made historical portraits of African American heroes and large vibrant paintings depicting the jazz world of the Harlem Renaissance. In the early 1990s, Yarde suffered a series of small strokes brought on by his blood pressure medicine. His struggle with illness shifted the focus of his work to issues of morality, vulnerability, and healing.