Jack Whitten’s early work combined figuration with abstraction. However, his latter work made a radical conceptual and visual shift, transitioning from oil paint to acrylic to focus on the process and materiality of painting.
Whitten’s inventiveness was also visible in his trademark tesserae, which were small cubes tilted to collect and reflect light that were cut from acrylic paint slabs and affixed to the canvas. He experimented with employing paint as a collage component and tesserae to further pursue his interest in science and technology.
Whitten worked with tesserae for almost 40 years to produce his Black Monolith series. He produced these abstracted homages to Black authors, musicians, and public figures such as Ralph Ellison, Chuck Berry, and W.E.B. Du Bois because she thought that art should reflect the times in which it is created.