Between 1958 and 1960, Frank Stella created a series of works that became known as his Black Paintings. These paintings, of which the present work is a supreme example, ultimately provided the fodder for the artist's best-known minimalist output of the 1960s, especially the "shaped canvases" that seemed to integrate aspects of sculpture and painting in a new kind of work that was hailed by minimalist critics.
The present work, too, though its surface is composed of such a limited palette--variations in tone of the color black-maintains a rather tactile surface quality evident in the building up of paint on paper. Stella exploits the sculptural qualities of collage, much like his contemporary Robert Rauschenberg, but limits his application to only tonal variations of the color black. The resulting experience is both cerebral and kinesthetic, in which the viewer experiences the work as both sculptural object and two-dimensional painting.
Stella was always aware that his paintings were, in fact, objects, and his integration of sculptural aspects only reinforces that idea. In his study of Minimalism, James Meyer characterized Stella's work as "schizophrenic," one that, for the period from his Black paintings of late 1958 to the later work, was able "to straddle the increasingly opposed purposes of pictorial illusionism and sculptural literalism" (J. Meyer quoted in Frank Stella 1958, exh. cat., Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 2006, p. 3).