Painted in 1981, X Within X Orange belongs to Mangold's X series, which he developed from 1980 to 1981. In this work, Mangold shaped the composition by joining two strips of painted paper to form a cross on which he drew a straight edge graphite cross. The work's restrained geometry stems from Mangold's minimalist experiments in the sixties, but the visual and psychological complexity of the composition typifies his concern for pure geometric elements that fit together to form a unified structure.
Mangold's compositions have a meditative quality rooted in the balance between spare pictorial elements. This equilibrium, however, is subtly upset by a slight distortion in the composition, creating visual tension. In X Within X Orange, the length of the graphite cross’ arms do not match the span of the arms of the richly painted, red-orange cross. At first, the eye is arrested by the visual conundrum of whether the arms of the graphite cross are even. Despite the discrepancy between what one sees and knows, Mangold creates a stable equilibrium. The painting illustrates Mangold's desire to create an interplay between interior structure and larger framework of geometric shape.
Even though Mangold had used the X shape in earlier work, it was not until around 1980 that he began to make it an exclusive focus. One of the artist’s primary concerns is the connection between his ideas and the process by which he transforms these ideas; Mangold begins with a structural concept that he develops in drawings. Finally, he makes subtle variations on painted canvas or on paper, as in the Phillips work, which is painted on heavyweight paper. He has always allowed color to play a dominant role in his work, but customarily used muted hues. However, by the time this work was painted, he had begun using strong, intense colors within more complex compositions. At this time he tended to use several colors or a single strong hue, as seen in the vibrant red-orange of X Within X Orange. In the late seventies Mangold added surface texture, applying the acrylic paint with a brush instead of a roller. Remnants of his brushstrokes can be seen in the subtle modulations of tone in the Phillips work.
Mangold's art makes subtle references to architecture. In merging painting with architectural forms and shapes, his work, particularly those paintings in subdued colors, have been related to the cool colors and geometric harmonies of the Italian Renaissance. X Within X Orange may also reflect the influence of more recent art-historical precedent, that of Russian constructivism. The constructivists often used the cross shape and the diagonal to create works that brought together characteristics of painting and architecture; their constructions became both a commentary on the arbitrary divisions in the arts and a reflection of their inherent unity, dual qualities that are present in Mangold's art.