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Al Held


Since the start of his artistic career, Al Held remained devoted to the constant exploration of the possibilities of the picture plane. Rather than focusing on what Clement Greenberg referred to in artistic practice as "revealing the flatness of a canvas," Held challenged this Modernist tendency with a predilection for hard-edged and geometric expressionist painting. With the influential work of Jackson Pollock and Piet Mondrian preceding him, Held was able to channel these inspirations into his own paintings - aligning him with what some identified as the second generation of Abstract Expressionism. His style became one of varied abstract expressionism that would redefine the art of painting over and over again until his death in 2005. However, with an irreverent disregard for contemporary artistic trends, Held himself has stated "I'm not an expressionist, I do not want to get something out of me but instead a truth out there into me." The search for universal truth in art was an endeavor to which Held submitted himself for the duration of his lengthy career. As Irving Sandler has written, Held exhibited an "ambition to create a synthetic art that was additive and inclusive, rather than reductive, an art that combined diverse and often contradictory elements and which, thereby, would yield metaphors for contemporary reality in all its plurality, complexity, and ambiguity." Intrinsically connected to issues of space, color, volume, chaos and order as well as heavily guided by aspects of Roman art and architecture and contemporary design, the late watercolors represented in this exhibition poignantly attest to Held's lifelong preoccupation with "transform[ing] formal concepts into his own abstract language." Held's abstract language typically manifested itself through large scale paintings and murals but is also stunningly obvious in his smaller format and lesser known watercolors, many of which functioned as studies for his larger commissions. One such commission was for the Jacksonville Library (watercolor studies for which can be seen here), which Held was working on at the time of his death in 2005.