Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1928, Held showed no interest in art until he left the Navy in 1947. Inspired by friend Nicholas Krushenick, Held enrolled in the Art Students League of New York, then, in 1949, using the support of the G.I. Bill, he went to Paris for three years, to learn at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. He returned to New York in 1953 and struggled with his work for several years.
After his first solo Abstract expressionist exhibition in 1959, Held’s large scale paintings of colorful, simple abstract forms gained increasing recognition in America and Europe. In 1962, he was appointed to Yale University Faculty of Art (until 1980), and in 1966 was granted a Guggenheim Fellowship. Feeling that he had reached his potential as an abstract expressionist, his style, in 1967 he shifted into black and white images that dealt with challenging perspectives and “spatial conundrums.” Some dismissed this as disorienting, while others declared it his finest work to date. In the late 70’s he re-introduced color to his work.
Held’s work is featured in numerous museum collections across the country and abroad, including the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Smithsonian Institute’s Museum of American Art, SFMoMA, and the Tate Gallery London. In his later years, he was making commissions of up to one million dollars. In 2005, he completed a large colorful mural in the New York City Subway system, at East 53rd Street and Lexington. 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.