Al Held

(Brooklyn, New York, 1928 - 2005, Todi, Italy)

North America, American

Painter Al Held rejected the Modernist doctrine of flatness and infused his canvases with illusionistic form and volume. He joined the Navy at age 16, serving from 1945 to 1947, and studied at the Art Students League in New York in 1948. Held attended the Academie de la Grande Chaumièr in Paris from 1950 to 1953, associating with other expatriate artists including Joan Mitchell, Sam Francis and Ellsworth Kelly. He abandoned his social realist style while abroad, returned to the United States at the height of Abstract Expressionism, and worked in that mode throughout the 1950s. In the 1960s, Held’s paintings became more geometric, with complex cube-like forms rendered in thick, impasto paint. As the decade progressed, Held pushed the three-dimensional possibilities of his two-dimensional canvases, incorporating vanishing points into his compositions. In the late 1970s and the early 1980s, his palette became brighter and his compositions more labyrinthine, focusing on arcs and arabesques inspired by Italian Renaissance and baroque architecture. Held taught at Yale from 1962 to 1980, and established a second home and studio in Tuscany in 1981, where he spent part of each year until his death. He received the Frank G. Logan Medal from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1964, a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in painting in 1966, and a six-month residency at the American Academy in Rome in 1981. Held’s work is in the collection of many institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Australian National Gallery in Canberra, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Kunstmuseum in Basel, Switzerland.

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