College Corner: Artist and professor Randall Exon

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Professor Randall Exon has just opened a show of his paintings at the Hirschl and Adler Modern gallery in New York city. A realistic, representational painter, most of his pieces are focused on the landscape, drawing from his remembered studies of Pennsylvania, and Ireland, where he is a continuing fellow at the Ballinglen Arts Foudnation in Balleycastle, Co. Mayo, Ireland.

Of the show, David Dearinger, curator of Paintings and Sculpture at the Boston Athenaeum, writes, “Randall Exon’s paintings reveal that the real world can be surreal enough without exaggerating it… and that the beauty of the world can be haunting without leaving us haunted.”

Exon has put on a show every two years since coming to Swarthmore and hopes to increase the amount of time spent on each show. Regarding thematic unity to the pieces exhibited, he observed, “You get into thematic realms, you can kind of explore with the idea of variations on a theme. This is something that most shows do. I’m working right now with four or five themes simultaneously.”

He points out the house depicted in his painting “Beach House Window.” The structure appears in many of his pieces, though it is entirely a product of his imagination. “I’m still heavily involved with the beach house,” he explains. “It’s been a most fertile source, even interior pictures are depicted in that space.” Other sources for his pictures which he has used and studied repeatedly are a white barn in nearby Chester Country depicted in “Egrets,” a garage first noticed in Media seen in “Garage at Night” and “Sheets and Garage,” and, of course, scenes from Ireland like “Flooded Road” and “Early’s Farm.”

His “The Falconer,” a large landscape with the figure of a falconer lifting his bird into the air, is to him a reflection on the war. “Not so much this specific war but ‘the art of war,'” he clarifies. “An intoxicating endeavor with this horrific reality. There’s such a fascination with it, with falconry, and yet the ultimate effect of all of it is just horrific.

What fascinates Exon are the myriad possibilities of composition. “The weird geometry of design, you never end up repeating yourself.” The process of this composition can be frustrating, requiring continual trial and experimentation in an effort to find the perfect balance for the formula, “The composition coupled with light and atmosphere. I think it’s the part people don’t think about.”

Finally, regarding other artists whom have influenced his work of late, Exon points to William Nicholson and George Inness. Inness in particular, Exon states, “has sustained me” for a long time, coming back to his attention after reading a book written by a former student and Swarthmore alum Rachel Ziady-DeLue, now an Americanist in Princeton’s art history department, who describes Inness as “a painter’s painter.”

Exon’s work will remain at the Hirschl and Adler Modern through April 21. Professor Exon teaches Foundation, Oil Painting, and Advanced Painting courses. Next semester he will be teaching Senior Workshop.