"I'm really interested in far more complex situations, not in reducing everything to an essence of absolute truth."
-- Al Held
After spending time in Paris in the early 1950s, Al Held returned to New York and became immersed in the Abstract Expressionist scene that then dominated the downtown art world. Over the next few decades, his paintings often bridged the divide between vigorous gesturalism and geometric abstraction. The large-scale black and white canvas B/W XVIII of 1968 bears the mark of the new path the artist took in the late 1960s. As his longtime friend, the eminent art historian Irving Sandler, explained, "By 1967, Held felt increasingly limited by the simplicity and flatness of his images. He was also put off by color-field and hard-edge abstraction generally. There seemed to be a glut of this reductive art. His urge was for complexity, and to achieve it, he opened up the picture space, tunneled into it. Using black bands on white grounds, he formed rectangular, cylindrical, and triangular volumes. His structures are pieced together as if they were masonry, and yet they keep coming apart, to be in perpetual flux" (I. Sandler, American Art of the 1960s, New York, 1988, pp. 39, 42).
In his final interview, given in 2005, Held reminisced about the his experience in New York during the 1960s: "There was a formalist revolution and I was living in the middle of New York City, you know, where the whole reductivist thing was happeningthe Minimalists to Greenberg to everybody else including the figurative artists were all into reducing everything to the picture planeand my paintings got more and more reducedThen at one point in the mid-60s I sort of reversed my course and said, 'hey, wait a minute, I'm really interested in far more complex situations, not in reducing everything to an essence of absolute truth' So that's when I turned away from - call it 'minimalism,' call it 'reductivism'It started with the black and white paintings" (A. Held, quoted in Al Held: American Abstract Expressionist Painter, 1928-2005, Jacksonville, 2006, n.p.).