The perfect equation: Artist combines math and art

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    “Goaltending,” by Nelson Saiers (Nelson Saiers)

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    “Genocide is Evil,” by Nelson Saiers (Nelson Saiers)

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    “Prime Example,” by Nelson Saiers (Nelson Saiers)

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    “Love is Blind,” by Nelson Saiers (Nelson Saiers)

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    “Ship of Theseus,” by Nelson Saiers (Nelson Saiers)

For Nelson Saiers, a great work of art can be one of the most mind-bending and elegant of mathematical equations. In fact, for this math whiz-turned Wall Street trader-turned full-time artist, math and art aren’t as different as many people claim – they’re one and the same.

“I think an equation is a work of art in itself. I think that statement is absolutely true,” Saiers told FoxNews.com as he was getting ready for the Nov. 5 opening of his first-ever art show. “Look at a formula like e^{i \pi} + 1 = 0 [Euler’s identity]. It has the five most important numbers in all mathematics, and involves addition, exponentiation, and multiplication. It’s beautiful.”

Saiers said that mathematics informs all of his work. Take one of his pieces like “Goaltending,” for example. Named for the basketball violation when a player interferes with the ball as it is about to fall through the basket, the abstract painting illustrates a group of seemingly disconnected objects like a tea cup hanging precariously by a string and a green basketball with an apple’s stem at its top ready to dip into a hoop. The image is surreal, but the various objects like a pair of scissors snipping at the suspension of a see-through elevator car that is curved in an elegant arc are arranged in a satisfying order. According to Saiers, the work is just as much an equation as it is a painting in a gallery display.

In fact, the objects in the painting all point to various mathematical and scientific theories. To hear Saiers explain the painting, is to encounter a free-flowing stream of consciousness, with the artist walking through each piece of the work bit by bit like he is diagramming a mathematical equation.

“The basketball that is an apple and the tea cup point to Newton’s Theory of Gravity, and the elevator points to Einstein’s thought experiments. Look at the how the elevator box is in a free fall, all of these objects would fall the same way, pulled down by gravity,” Saiers said. “All of the lines in the piece are very linear. Then, look at the number five on the elevator, it points to Euclid’s fifth postulate – Bernhard Riemann found a way to violate it in the 19th century, and formed a math called Riemannian Geometry. Then, the arc of the elevator points to the idea of a parallel axiom. Then look at all the objects in the room, like the cup hanging, suspended. They point to Einstein’s theory of relativity.”

It’s pretty heady material for a painting, and when asked whether he wants a viewer to understand all of the mathematics behind his work or simply enjoy the art, Saiers said he’d rather have them enjoy the work.

“I think the vast majority of people won’t immediately see the references. It’s pretty highbrow. But I want people to just enjoy it, and weigh my art in a positive way, but obviously I have the descriptions next to each piece, so that they can understand the thought behind it,” Saiers said.

Making sure that viewers appreciate his work is important for Saiers, whose “Goaltending” is one of the pieces featured in his first art show, “Blindfolded in Gravity’s Shadow,” which runs through Dec. 1 at Studio Vendome in New York’s Soho neighborhood. The show is the first phase in a new career for Saiers, who stepped down from his role as chief investment officer of hedge fund Saiers Capital LLC, in order to focus on art professionally. Saiers said that, despite finding success on Wall Street, he always fantasized about pursuing a life dedicated to his art, and through this current gallery show, he has the opportunity to show off his work that melds his love of science and math with his personal, sometimes traumatic childhood experiences growing up in war-torn countries like Ethiopia and Afghanistan.

Saiers’s father worked for the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the foreign service arm of the State Department. About the first five years of Saiers’s life were spent in Ethiopia and Afghanistan. While he has no memory of the experience, Saiers had a gun pointed at his head while going through a security check point when he was only one years old, and lived in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion. As a child, he had Typhoid fever, but also contracted Toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease that damaged his retina. Saiers said that, as much as math and science influence his work, the personal experiences of his childhood are reflected in his paintings, even if they aren’t readily apparent to the average viewer.

After stints in Swaziland and Ghana, his family eventually settled in Virginia, where Saiers’s love of art developed with frequent trips to the National Gallery of Art, with the budding artist drawn to the works of masters like Rembrandt and Vincent van Gogh. Never formally trained in art, Saiers trained himself by studying art books and magazines, but it was math that interested him when he became a student at the University of Virginia. When most students just focused on their undergraduate studies, Saiers was working on serious math papers with his professors, and ended up earning his Ph.D. in mathematics by the age of 23. For about the next ten years, he worked in the financial world, for places like the Susquehanna Investment Group and Deutsche Bank, before starting his own hedge fund and now leaving that to pursue art.

Saiers said his first serious introduction to the New York art scene came when he wrote a well-publicized letter to mysterious British artist Banksy, pledging to donate $100,000 to charities for those afflicted by Hurricane Sandy if the graffiti artist would create a mural in honor of those impacted by the storm. Members of the arts community responded, and Saiers eventually made the connections that led to his first art show.

Saiers said that he now wants to focus on his art full-time, and hopes to have more shows in the future.

What exactly does Saiers want the casual observer — who might normally shy away from a math equation or a scientific theory — to take away from his work on first glance?

“I hope they say, ‘wow that’s how a math person thinks,’ ” Saiers said. “Most people think math is pretty arcane, but when you bring it to a more visual format, you see that it has an aesthetic value. Math can be creative, too.”

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