1987 - "Portraying the Visually Possible"

The first display of paintings entitled Mono (Chromatic) Lisa occurred back in 1987 in an invitational exhibit at the Selby Gallery in Sarasota, Florida. For that debut, I provided an artist’s statement to introduce the logic behind those early experiments. Four of the paintings are shown here. The following is an edited version of the 1987 document.


The visibility of art – the seeing of it – remains so unmistakable. It’s a quality that we find substantiated beyond any argument through the fact that every picture allows its manipulations consequential to its optical immediacy.

From the start of our efforts we’re unwillingly bound to the perceivability of our marks, much more so than to the initial shaping of our marks. Seeing obviously came first; art, somehow, second.

We can say with equal conviction that every picture demonstrates a fixed and motionless kind of reality. It appears that we’re always engaged in the manufacturing of still-things, objects made to be viewed one at a time. And the objects we make usually display their pictorial information while being confined to one particular location inside space too. When we work on a picture we know intuitively that it is, first of all, a solid object, a definitive shape; and it’s in one single place at a time. What we have in front of us will always be, inescapably, a thing that has been intentionally created and then carefully positioned to be seen.

This mandated physicality within art is a thingness unto itself. It allows a painting to reach out for and grasp an image, to hold it, helping fabricate the structure of the image, transforming a certain arrangement of mass into that eventual thingness we now call image. The act of painting, then, must always be an activity about making images out of things; and subsequently, things out of images. We even go so far as to invite the ghost of meaning to reside somewhere inside of what we make, within this composite thingness that is comprised of both mass and mirage.

The fact that everything in art critically hinges upon visibility doesn’t mean much to many of my comrades in and of itself today. By being artists our primary task is now even more simplified by this inherited plan of attack, cultivated by both evolution and history:


ARTISTS: Just continue making more images. But do not question the validity of their presence. Do not bother trying to seek out the shape and picture of visibility herself.


All that remains for us is the job of manipulating that which already exists, right? And then perhaps recombining those things as best as possible into newer arrangements, newer techniques and mediums, making even more pictures out of things and things out of pictures. If that's true, then we are literally busying ourselves by creating clever variations on an unresolved presence.

What I would like to suggest here (hopefully supported by these paintings) is that there might be more to be gained from a renewed examination of this entire phenomenon of "picturability". I’m suggesting that we should no longer continue to simply take pictorial visibility for granted. I insist there is an alternative kind of meaning to be discovered hiding just below the surface of imaging, just beneath the materiality of the painted illusion. What is left for us to do is to peel away the skin of painting, peer directly at the face of visibility herself and allow her to display her own grand formulation, before she has a chance to become shrouded with our own preassigned, symbolical meanings. If we can accomplish this one thing, we will be able to see a face of reality that is both new and unexpected, startling yet somehow familiar: a face of meaning that is staring directly out at all of us, throughout every stage of every single picture, the name of which can only be said to be the simple fact and form of Visual Materiality herself.

If we are to enjoy a renewed progress in art, we might begin by isolating this very basic but vital feature of picturing and give new definition to its presence. We must do so at this moment in history in order to bestow to the act of painting that single and yet perfectly disguised identity it so deservingly and continually seeks to expose – its own unique quintessence, the unfolding yet forever fixed face of painting itself, the face of the possible.


– David Orr Wright

Mono (Chromatic) Lisa

Oil on wood panels

Approx. 36 x 24 inches each