Black Monolith II, Homage To Ralph Ellison The Invisible Man
Black Monolith II is part of a series that pays tribute to influential Black figures in simplified forms inspired by stelae, or commemorative stone monuments, from ancient Crete. Jack Whitten created this version, dedicated to the novelist and literary critic Ralph Ellison, the year of the author’s death. The silhouette-like shadow draws parallels with Ellison’s best-known work, Invisible Man, which Whitten described as portraying “the exact dimensions of being Black in America.”
Acrylic, molasses, copper, salt, coal, ash, chocolate, onion, herbs, rust, eggshell, razor blade on canvas
Proper right side of canvas/stretcher: "Black Monolith II: For R.W. Ellison April 1994 J. Whitten"
William K. Jacobs, Jr. Fund
This item is not on view
Jack Whitten (American, 1939-2018). Black Monolith II, Homage To Ralph Ellison The Invisible Man, 1994. Acrylic, molasses, copper, salt, coal, ash, chocolate, onion, herbs, rust, eggshell, razor blade on canvas, 58 x 52 in. (147.3 x 132.1 cm). Brooklyn Museum, William K. Jacobs, Jr. Fund, 2014.65. © artist or artist's estate (Photo: Image Courtesy of Alexander Gray Associates, CUR.2014.65_Alexander_Gray_Associates_photograph.jpg)
. Image Courtesy of Alexander Gray Associates, 2014
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© Jack Whitten
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Tell me more.
Jack Whitten works acrylic paint into tiles and then applies those tiles to a canvas to create a mosaic. This work is a part of his series "Black Monolith" which he uses to say: "thank you to black artists, writers, thinkers, and poets. It is a way to honor our own and to grieve our own." Monoliths are often used as monuments to mark important places or events. In this way, this is not just a portrait but also a monument or piece of architecture. There's a materiality to the painting.
Tell me more.
Jack Whitten's "Black Monolith II (For Ralph Ellison)" is made of surprising materials. The mosaic tiles are formed out of acrylic paint, molasses, copper, salt, coal, ash, chocolate, onion, herbs, rust, and eggshell instead of glass.
Did you notice the razor blade for a mouth? It can be seen as an allusion to Ellison's profession as an author. His most famous work is Invisible Man, about a black man struggling metaphorically with invisibility and visibility in the United States in the early 20th century. The curator has also described the razor as a representation of the "double edged experience of being black in America."
Yes. It spoke volumes.