Hirschl & Adler Modern is thrilled to open its Fall 2022 season with Maritime, Randall Exon’s fifth solo exhibition with the gallery and his first since 2013. Twelve new paintings of quotidien moments are imbued with the artist’s celebrated sense of haunting beauty. Each one feeling all the more poignant against the backdrop of recent events. Focusing on the sea, and boats more specifically, this body of work was born out of Exon’s experiences during Covid lockdown. Needing to simply “get out of the house,” the artist began exploring the back roads of Delaware Bay in southern New Jersey, across the state line from his home outside Philadelphia. It was there that Exon found a working-class yacht club that had fallen on hard times, with dozens of old yachts out of the water, propped up on poles and jacks. Initially drawn-in by the architecture of the boats with their colorful keels fading in the sun, Exon was captivated by the timelessness of the scene. The artist would return again and again to paint what he found there, keenly understanding the allegory he was depicting. Through Exon’s masterful handling, the sense of isolation and of being outside of time, shared by many during the pandemic, is channeled into moments of wonder and peace.
Exon’s Rudder Series, five small scale portraits of the rudders of abandoned boats, are moving examples of the artist’s intentions. Each painting’s complex compositional arrangement is punctuated by moments of bright color and whimsy, with each rudder personifying our own need for purpose in an uncertain time. Paintings like Long Keel and Evinrude continue this narrative. In both, a single boat stands defiant in its surrounding. Exon has pulled back from the close-cropping of the Rudder Series to expose an expanse of horizon. This broader vantage deepens the sense of isolation, as well as emphasizes the boat’s resolve.
Two large scale paintings introduce human figures to the exhibition’s scope. The Chesapeake portrays a family group in a grassy spit of land by a beach, seated around a fire. Each member, including the dog, stare off into different points in the distance. A figure, whose back is to us, stands on a trampoline, adding a touch of surrealism to the scene. Despite their proximity to each other, these figures are alone in their world. Exon approaches this same idea of isolation from a different angle in The Jetty, a bright, open painting of two surfers standing on the shore. A male figure in wetsuit stares out past a small grouping of rocks, to watch the breaking waves. Next to him and central to the scene, a female figure looks straight at the viewer. Her acknowledgement of our presence on the beach feels warm and welcoming. After months, years even, of feeling isolated – of feeling like time does not exist – we are greeted with the stranger’s reassurance of being in the here and now.