MARA HELD (b. 1954, New York) is known for energetic yet delicate paintings on linen and paper depicting lyrical organic forms in vibrant colors. Her intricate line work and patterning evoke varied sources from plant life growing on ancient forest floors or pelagic forms found in coral reefs to Japanese woodcuts and Psychedelic posters. Held’s preferred medium is egg tempera, a painstaking technique mastered by Renaissance painters. Carter Foster, deputy director of the Blanton Museum, explains “It’s not a medium where you can sling the paint around. You can see the precision of Mara’s work even though the forms are not hard edged.”
Held's interest in the woven, primitive mark-making, and the grid, became the genesis of her current series of works, Straight Lines. Held began incorporating gouache with egg tempera, and the scale of her works on paper grew. She first starts by penciling in a ground resembling a grid, or a warp and weft, to act as an anchor for these improvisational pieces. She builds out the compositions restricting her marks to straight lines but forming with their edges a breadth of undulations and curves. The results are colorful and visually satisfying images that exemplify Held's skill as a painter and dedication to her craft.
Born in 1954 in New York, Held moved to the highlands of Guatemala in her early 20s to study the art and ancient language of the Quiché people. She received her undergraduate degree from CUNY - City University of New York and an MA from Immaculate Heart College, Los Angeles, California before moving back to New York in the 1980s. She taught essay writing at the college level and became a full-time artist at the age of 35. Her studio is located on an old dairy farm in the picturesque Hudson Valley that has been in her family since the 1960s. Her work has been the subject of many solo exhibitions in New York City and abroad and included in group shows nation- and world-wide. Institutions that have collected her work include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The New York Public Library; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas; The International Artists' Museum, Tel Aviv, Israel; and Phillips Collection in Washington, DC. Mara Held’s work has been profiled by The New York Times, Elle Décor, and The Brooklyn Rail. Held has had three solo exhibitions at McClain Gallery in 2015, 2017, and 2021.