Byron T. Randall Biography

Byron T. Randall




Painter, printmaker, muralist, and activist Byron Randall was born in Tacoma, Washington, on October 23, 1918. His formal art training took place at the Salem Art Center in Oregon, which was funded in part by the WPA Federal Art Project. To support himself as he pursued a career in painting, he took a variety of odd jobs including waiter, boxer, cook for the Marion County jail, and farmhand. He had his first solo show at the Whyte Gallery in Washington, D.C., giving him national recognition and opening the doors to shows throughout the U.S.

In the years leading up to U.S. participation in World War II Randall and his first wife, Canadian sculptor Helen Nelson, started a family and in 1940 they lived in Mexico for six months, where Randall continued to paint and was introduced to printmaking at the Taller de Grafica Popular. There, he worked with his friend Pablo O'Higgins, Francisco Mora, and others. He would later become an associate member of the famed Mexican printing workshop. After the U.S. entered the war, Randall served in the Merchant Marines and was sent to the South Pacific, where he would paint as often as was possible. Following the war, he took a job with a Canadian news agency as an illustrator, traveling to Eastern Europe to capture post-war devastation; his work, which began in Abstraction, now took on a more representational style which he would maintain for several decades. In 1948, he settled with his family in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco, where he began working on murals. Among the works he produced at the this time was a large mural for famed Vesuvio's Cafe. When McCarthyism began to take hold of the U.S., Byron and Helen, who were both active in anti-war activities and were former members of the U.S. Communist Party, fled for Canada, where they remained until Helen's death in a car accident in 1956. 

In 1959, Randall moved to Mendocino County, California with his children. He soon remarried, to printmaker and painter Emmy Lou Packard. They ran an art gallery and guest house from 1959 to 1968 and were environmental and political activists. Randall began working on found-object sculptures that exhibited a Surrealist bent, reacting to the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Simultaneously, he began working on a long-running series of oil paintings dedicated to American Democratic ideals with the figurehead of Abraham Lincoln often appearing in the works. When his second marriage ended in 1972, Randall relocated to Tomales in Marin County, a few hours south of Mendocino. He reestablished a studio and home by converting a chicken coop, which eventually became a landmark that attracted collectors and tourists. He continued to produce art works until his death on August 11, 1999. 

Throughout these years Randall exhibited throughout the U.S. and abroad, including in Chicago, New York, Seattle, Indianapolis, Toronto, Montreal, Moscow, Inverness (Scotland), Edinburgh; and Leeds. His work is included in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Art; the Phillips Collection; the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Mills College Art Museum; the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust; Oakland Museum of Art; the Minneapolis Museum of Art; the Crocker Art Museum; Musee national des Beaux-Arts du Quebec; among many others.