'Ecuaciones:' Color by Numbers

At first glance, the paintings of Ximena Mandiola’s Ecuaciones (“Equations”) look like a child’s rendering of The Matrix. Painted rows of numbers of various sizes, colors, mediums and styles cover the 14-piece exhibit at Museo Bellas Artes.

Santiago Chile
"Lado B" by Ximena Mandiola, photo courtesy Carla Pastén

Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that, although the artist uses only lines and numbers in her paintings, the level of creativity and obsessive detail is outstanding. As a daughter of art collectors, Mandiola's knowledge of art is evident by her use of color and unique subject matter. And although the paintings follow several thematic elements, each work is completely different.

Santiago Chile Le Monde Diplomatique
Photo by Carla Pastén

Some paintings are a nostalgic nod to the days of dusty chalkboards and reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. Other works are as precise and detailed as a textile, woven with numbers. But all of the paintings utilize hundreds of painted numbers to create chaos or to form some variety of pattern. All of the works include an underlying structure, be it stripes, checkerboard or the ever-present shape of the number 5.

Certain arbitrary colors are repeated as well; Mandiola favors the primary colors, a specific slate gray-blue, off-white, dusty pink and sepia brown. Beyond these few related elements, the paintings have little else in common.

“Mediodia” (Midday) gives the viewer a longing for kindergarten's building blocks, Legos and alphabet on the wall. The bright blue and yellow background that contrasts large, backwards numbers along with the red and green detailing all lend to the sense of an innocent, confused painter. But “Letra Chica” (Small Letter), a far cry from the simple red, yellow and blue colors of "Mediodia," suggests the artist has a well-studied, knowing eye. The rows of small red numbers appear pink against a blue background and orange against the green paint, a common trick of the eye as demonstrated by color theory professors.

Santiago Chile
"Interior 27" by Ximena Mandiola
Photo courtesy Carla Pastén

The most outlying and intriguing of the works is “Desclasificado” (Declassified), which at first glance seems to be missing the requisite series of numbers. But after studying the pale blue background covered in slate polka dots, the rows of maroon circles actually appear to be zeroes. Dots of yellow, orange, red and lime green accentuate the very circular painting, making it hard to fixate on any one point.

Upon seeing “Desclasificado,” it becomes obvious that Mandiola could take her skills much further than the sole subject of numbers. It speaks volumes that she was able to orchestrate an entire exhibition using only numbers, colors and lines. On the other hand, it seems a pity that she didn’t stretch her skills and knowledge a bit further. Perhaps she could have included shapes, letters or even a bit less structure.

Santiago Chile
Photo by Carla Pastén

All in all, even non-artsy types will enjoy Mandiola's keen eye and clever use of these symbols we use to count. The calming, organized works such as “Pagina Abierta” (Open Page) and “Marcha Blanca” (White March) are logical and structured, while the opposing, chaotic works like “Ejercicios de Memoria” (Memory Exercises) feel like a math problem you would never want to solve.

Mandiola is a skilled, modern painter who lives and works here in Santiago. So support a fellow santiaguina and stop by Museo Bellas Artes, even if you didn’t ace math in high school.

Through May 3, 2009
CP$300 (US$.50), free on Sundays
Museo Bellas Artes
Parque Forestal, Casilla 3209
Tuesday to Sunday, 10:00 am to 6:50 pm
Metro: Bellas Artes

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