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Al Held (b. 1928), born in Brooklyn, grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant and the East Bronx. Thrown out of school at age 16 for chronic truancy, he hung out at the movies. After a two-year hitch, he returned to New York.
In 1949, he arranged to go to Paris where he spent the next three years studying at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere. He returned to New York in 1953, having become a modernist. In the next few years he established himself as a working artist and began to exhibit his work. His first solo show took place at a New York gallery in 1959.
After launching his career as an Abstract Expressionist, Held became dissatisfied with this type of painting and began exhibiting canvases filled with crisp-edged, raucously colored geometric shapes.
In 1966, Held was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and received the Logan Medal of the arts. Feeling that he'd reached the end of his style's potential, he shifted in 1967 to black and white images that dealt with challenging perspectives and "spatial conundrums". Some critics dismissed this work as simply disorienting; others declared it Held's finest achievement to date. By the late 1970s, he had re-introduced colour to his work.
At age 76, Held was found dead in his villa swimming pool near Camerata, Italy, on July 27, 2005. It is believed he died of natural causes.
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