Elder Kinder

Painter Jason Yarmosky’s intimate, offbeat oil-on-canvas portraits of his grandparents challenge our notions of aging, heroism and Alzheimer’s disease.
Jason Bard Yarmosky artwork

When Len and Elaine Bard paid their grandson Jason Bard Yarmosky $1 to give them art lessons when he was 4, little did they know that in their older age they would become his muses for a series of paintings that challenge our very notions of aging and Alzheimer’s disease.

“For me, through my art I’ve been able to explore questions that I’ve always had growing up, questions about memory, mortality and time.”

But these are no ordinary oil on canvas portraits. Len and Elaine posed for Yarmosky from 2010-2018, often in superhero costumes, masks or bunny ears. His work captures both the graphicness of aging but also its vitality, grace and humor. Yarmosky’s first body of paintings from 2010 – 2012, entitled Elder Kinder, explored aging and challenged our societal perception of its meaning, using costumes as symbolism.

“The influence of Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro further emphasized the artist’s interest in shedding light on what society has conditioned us to see as dark.”

“The Boxer” 2012. Oil on linen 72 x 60 in. Private collection.

In 2013, as his grandmother Elaine began exhibiting the early signs of dementia, Yarmosky began exploring ideas of memory and time.  In “Sleep Walking”, a large scale monochromatic portrait about transitions, Yarmosky composed his grandparents on separate planes as a metaphor.

“Her shadow, which is behind her representing the past, is cast over their wedding picture on the wall, emphasizing the distance between when they first met and the present moment. Beside that picture is an oval mirror, which is reflecting my shadow, putting me in the room with them”

“Sleep Walking” 2013. Oil on canvas 83 x 73 in. Private collection.

As Elaine’s dementia became more prominent, Yarmosky says he faced a moral decision about depicting her despite the changes she was undergoing.  It was then that Yarmosky painted one of his most personal works, “Whispering Grass”, depicting Elaine in the foreground wearing a Wonder Woman costume, and behind her is a vast field with a windswept tree. The title was inspired by a song written by Fred and Doris Fisher in 1940.

“Many people voiced their opinions of discomfort when this transition occurred, but Elaine clearly expressed her feelings of exclusion when I worked with my grandfather Len alone.”

“Whispering Grass” 2013. Oil on canvas 84 x 84 in. Private collection.

Another painting of Elaine, “Wintered Fields” was featured in 2017 in the artist’s first solo museum exhibition, “Somewhere”, at the University of Maine Museum of Art.  The show featured large scale portraits that study various expressions of dementia and vulnerability.

“Elaine wears a Wonder Woman costume as a symbol of strength. The background can be viewed as a backdrop mirroring the mental state of the subject. They respond to the loss of control and the subconscious mind, speaking to a dream-like state, a place intangible to those not experiencing it.”

In 2019 “Wintered Fields” was exhibited in “Men of Steel, Women of Wonder: Modern American Heroes in Contemporary Times” at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. The exhibition then traveled to the San Antonio Museum of Art and the Addison Gallery of American Art. “Wintered Fields” was acquired by the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in 2019 and is currently on view in the contemporary gallery of the museum.

“Wintered Fields” 2015. Oil on canvas 72 x 144 in. Collection of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Yarmosky graduated with a BFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York City in 2010. His paintings and drawings have been exhibited and collected internationally, including solo exhibitions at the Huntington Museum of Art and the University of Maine Museum of Art. His work has been featured in numerous publications including the T Magazine, Wall Street Journal, Art Forum, Artnet, Blouin Artinfo, HypeBeast, Complex, Whitewall, Juxtapoz, American Artist Drawing, American Art Collector, and The Huffington Post, and he is a past winner of the Elizabeth Greenshields Award.

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The Dementia Arts Spotlight promotes visual and performing artists who are grappling with dementia through original work or innovative arts programs. The Spotlight—in a Q&A format where artists describe the details and significance of their work or program—connects each artist to the Dementia Spring community. Find examples of prior Dementia Arts Spotlights here. Know of an artist whose work should be Spotlighted? Send them this link!

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