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Black Monolith II (For Ralph Ellison)

Jack Whitten

Contemporary Art

Made in the year of Ralph Ellison’s death, Black Monolith II (For Ralph Ellison) is a homage to the author of Invisible Man (published in 1952) that expands the possibilities of painting. It is part of a larger series by Jack Whitten honoring black visionaries in politics and the arts, many of whom (including Ellison) Whitten knew.

To create this mosaic painting, Whitten made tiles composed of organic materials and acrylic paint and applied them to a canvas. The tiles each have a unique chemistry, with embedded materials that carry their own individual significance. According to Whitten, the figure’s acrylic-encased razor-blade mouth refers to the “double edge of black identity,” which “cuts both ways.”

The illumination radiating from the figure conveys the essence of one of Whitten’s favorite passages from Invisible Man:

Nothing, storm or flood, must get in the way of our need for light and ever more and brighter light. The truth is the light and the light is the truth.
MEDIUM Acrylic, molasses, copper, salt, coal, ash, chocolate, onion, herbs, rust, eggshell, razor blade on canvas
DATES 1994
DIMENSIONS 58 x 52 in. (147.3 x 132.1 cm)
SIGNATURE Proper right side of canvas/stretcher: "Black Monolith II: For R.W. Ellison April 1994 J. Whitten"
COLLECTIONS Contemporary Art
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CREDIT LINE William K. Jacobs, Jr. Fund
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