Xylor Jane Paints By Numbers
Published February 26, 2009
Xylor Jane’s paintings of dots in various colors are arranged in tight visual rhythms; they’re hypnotizing upon approach, even crippling. While Jane’s dots use “op” eye maneuvers, its always as a means, rather than an end. Each painting is structured based on numerological codes, primarily prime numbers and sequences. With Jane’s latest exhibition, N.D.E., the artist shows paintings in which the dots are configured into numbers. The arrangement foregrounds themes of abstraction and figuration that Jane has long explored, and elements of biographical narrative in an otherwise elusive body of work. Of one relatively muted work, “Departed” in which Jane has embedded three heart shapes, sheadvises, “Imagine the painting trying to leave itself.” N.D.E. opened yesterday; we met up with Xylor Jane before and found out a little about ourselves along the way. (Photo: Alex Gartenfeld)
ALEX GARTENFELD: Whenever people talk about your work they mention algorithms.
XYLOR JANE: That’s one thing that gets thrown around. Pineapples is another one. Because they follow the Fibonacci Sequence.
AG: Do you paint from a specific algorithm for one painting, or for a series?
XJ: It’s more what I’m interested in at the time, which leads to more explorations and different directions. This show is pretty diverse; I worked on it for a year. It’s mostly primes—it’s prime numbers. There is also Pi and Phi.
AG: What is Phi?
XJ: Phi is an irrational number. It’s called the Golden Section.
AG: I know the golden mean but—
Jane’s tattoos spell five on each hand, in numbers.
XJ: It’s the same thing.
AG: What’s the proportion?
XJ: The proportion is 1.618, andin Fibonacci the ratio between numbers is Phi. It’s related to that. Pi is the ratio between the circumference and diagonal or—
AG: 2-Pi-R, Pi-R-squared, 4/3-Pi-R-cubed…
XJ: Pi is very similar but it’s related to the square; it’s the relationship between the diagonal of the square and its side.
AG: It’s like sign-cosign. The paintings also follows a color pattern. Does the color pattern follow a code?
XJ: [GESTURING TO A PAINTING] That’s a vertical rainbow, but I had to throw in a few more hues, since there are ten columns. It’s a ten-band rainbow. That’s the first number-dot painting that I did, so it’s nice that it was included in the show because you can see how the thoughts changed over time. Those were small and delicate the first ones and then they-
AG: Later they become more graphic , and the colors are heavier. How did you use the numbers initially?
XJ: I have this compulsion to fit all the days on a piece of paper.
AG: Like On Kawara?
XJ: Kind of. I’m really interested in time. The passage of time and the whole thing. Most people who try to talk about time sound like idiots. It’s just really hard to discuss. It’s more about the experience of my life. Anyway, I did about half of my life on one piece of paper and it was just so annoying because it was so big. I can’t stand really big drawings; they always look so bad when they’re framed, so I tried to do them on tiny pieces of paper using jewelers’ glasses, writing so small you couldn’t even read it with the naked eye. That wasn’t it either. Then I just decided that I could do sections of numbers that could encompass a whole.
AG: How do you recoird a day as a number? Would today, February 26, be 022609?
XJ: I’ve done it in many different ways. These paintings have both they the five digit numbers, like you and I are five digit numbers days alive. I also did Julian Calendar, which is a seven-digit number. Each day has its own specific number, I like the Julian Calendar a lot because it really edifies this thing that each day is new.
AG: What’s the first number of life? Do you have it memorized?
XJ: Yeah, the Julian date. It is 2, 443,083-is that right? I think I skipped a number. 83 or 84. Today is cool because it is 2,454,888. That’s nice, 888.
AG: Doesn’t happen too often.
AG: Where you really interested in numerology when you were younger?
AG: How did you come into it?
XJ: I don’t know. I just searched for order and beauty.
AG: Do you have a most powerful number? People are always mentioning 23.
XJ: 23 is a great one. It’s prime. I’m really into 5 and 7. I’m a double 7. Your personality number and your life number.
AG: What’s a personality number?
XJ: Personality number is when you assign numbers to the letters in your name and then add it up to a single digit.
AG: So it goes from 1 to 9, what does 7 mean? Is there a tktk related to 1 to 9?
XJ: Sure. It’s pretty good thing to be a 7.
AG: It’s another prime number.
XJ: They’re sort of magical. They don’t have the baggage of 1 to 5. Since 6 is a perfect number, everything kind of leads up to that. Then 7 is just dropped into space. The only thing that can be a problem for 7’s is that we’re prone to flights of fancy. I don’t really consider that a problem.
AG: Why is 7 a perfect number?
XJ: Because its factors equals itself. There aren’t many perfect numbers. 2, 3, and 1 are factors of 6. 28 is the next one. So I use 28 a lot, the next one is 486.
AG: If the first one is your personality number, what is the second one?
XJ: Your life number, which is from your date of birth.
AG: So November would be 112586?
XJ: So you’re a 5. 5 is good—you’re explosive.
AG: Is there anyone that’s bad? I guess it depends on your outlook.
XJ: Well, I’m not crazy about 1’s and 2’s are hard. Those personalities are difficult.
AG: And you find a correlation in your life experience?
XJ: Yeah, and I have a lot of friends who are 11s. You don’t add the 11 to 2. Those are people that usually resist being defined. So they’ll be saying something and I’ll be like “Oh, I know what you mean.” And then they say, “Oh that’s not it.”
AG: Very contrarian?
XJ: They’re bizarre, and kind of hard to deal with.
AG: So what’s a 5?
XJ: A 5 is like the bomb. So there’s all this build-up, 1 is the first, and 2 is more of that tension; 3 is more spiritual and 4 is very stable and secure. For 5 all you can do is blow it up. You have a lot of chaos and energy around you.
AG: The paintings have this mysterious, hypnotic quality. How do you plot them paintings? Do you plot them from seeing them from different places, this quality of entering the work?
XJ: Yeah that’s definitely a thing; they start as sketches and idea. The panel sizes are all linked because they are numbers that I liked. This one is 31 x 37, so that is two consecutive prime numbers. That one is 41 x 44. It was going to be 41 x 43, which is a twin prime. I just got hooked on 44 for some reason.
AG: There are places in the margin where you’re written numbers. Is this another interior code, or a clue?
XJ: Yes, well this number is supposed to be a 4, but you can see it is an 8. That’s a mistake. A lot of times when you see a note it’s because it’s a mistake.
AG: Do you code the choices of the colors or do you follow the rainbow?
XJ: They’re a rainbow. A lot of them are coded by day of the week; in my opinion Saturday is red. Sunday is orange, Monday is yellow, and Tuesday is green.
AG: That makes sense. Sunday begins the week.
XJ: Some of the paintings are made by days of the week, and some are Julian numbers. That takes a lot of reach to figure out. There’s a Julian date converter with thousands of dates, all the tktk of your life. It takes a while, a lot of sittings to get it compiled. This is useless information to most people, but I really want to know. It’s very important to me.
AG: Do you think about the procedure by which someone enters your painting? This one has a perspective pattern.
XJ: Mostly I think about my paintings as occupying two spaces—a shallow depth, but more than that I think that they aggress the same distance so they come toward you. So they create a false space in front of them.
AG: Also inside of it.
XJ: Yeah, but that’s pretty shallow not a deep one. A lot of the space that is just your eyes trying to locate the different dots or figures, so it’s just an optical illusion. It’s a stress on your eyes that’s happening, and that creates this artificial space.
AG: You have lots of tattoos. Do any of them correspond to you being a 7-7?
XJ: No: this one was a good-bye to San Francisco tattoo. It was all the street numbers I hung out on 14, 10th, 19, 6, yes. Those were my streets. I lived on 14th and my studio was on 10th and I hung out on 19th.
AG: Do you choose where you live based on numeralology?
XJ: Well yes, the storefront I have now. I wasn’t sure I wanted to take it and then I was talking to him about what is really the address of that door even though I can’t get mail there. The actual address is 358 which is Fibonacci and I was like “Oh, I think it’s mine.” Oh my god, I wasn’t sure but after that.
AG: Do you think of the tattoos as having a talismanic—is it just to articulate your connection to the numbers?
XJ: It’s a sign to the world.
AG: That you’re interested in numbers.
XJ: Whether people know or not, it resonates with the spirit. We have counting within us. They say babies can discern less than and greater than. There is a sense of counting in our genes. I think numbers resonate. A lot of people have anti-number, they’re like “numbers make me shut down, I was so bad at math” but even that’s a thing it has a lot of energy and presence in their life.
N.D.E is on view through March 29. CANADA is located at 55 Chrystie Street, New York.