Last Series I-XX

“I fundamentally believe that modernism is a radical, new language, but I think it is a young, new language. What I set out to do is expand the vocabulary of what modernist painting could be. It’s the only way to revitalize modernism, to keep it going as a growing language . . . these paintings are a reflection of the attempt to break down the should and should nots.”

– Al Held

In contrast to the expressive painting styles of his contemporaries that emphasized the surface of the canvas, Al Held was interested in the creation of illusionistic space. The 20 canvases that comprise The Last Series center on letters of the alphabet envisioned like monuments. Densely painted and textured, the letters and abstract forms are placed so tightly against one another that the frame can barely contain them. The paintings appear like portals to an abstract landscape that extends far beyond the confines of the frame.

Image: Last Series I-XX, 1964, Al Held, acrylic on paper mounted on board, 19 x 25 in. each, Gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2014.25.26, © Estate of Al Held/Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.