Paul Vexler at Foster/White Gallery

Photo by Molly Addington


Paul Vexler | In Conversation

Foster/White Gallery: Space, and understanding how shapes occupy space, is a constant quest for mathematicians and artists alike. Which forms are the most visually pleasing? How do you go about finding and creating them?

Paul Vexler: I am glad you brought up the topic of space because it is one of my favorite subjects.  I've been compiling a list of different types of space for a few years and this is a chance to get some additional entries.  Perhaps you could ask people to send them to the gallery. Here is the list so far:

Empty space
Outer space
Inner space 
Negative space
Physical space
Geometric space
Flat space 
Curved space
Euclidean space
Non-Euclidean space 
N-Dimensional space
Infinite space
Space, the last frontier
My space
Space-time continuum
Personal space
Public space
Sacred space
Granular space
Absolute space
Phase space
Head space
Dead space
Virtual space


Paul Vexler's Wood Shop


As you can see, I am not quite sure what is meant by the word "SPACE,” but I do know that it is different than "STUFF,” which is a whole other subject. When I look at the list, I think that the most intriguing and poetic is "empty space.” What is that?

As a sculptor, I feel that I am a not placing things in space but rather collaborating with space, as though we were partners, trying to get the job done. I am not a mathematician, but I have read a lot about the history of mathematics. Mathematicians define and explore the spaces that they invent. They use techniques like projection (which is similar to looking at shadows), and rubber sheet geometry (topology) to understand and explore concepts. Their insights are extremely inspirational to me. For me, finding inspiration is the easy part. I just have to go to my bookshelves or take a good look at the beautiful plants that my wife, Sonia, cares for so well in our home. The hard part is to go into the studio and do something about it.



F/WG: Where, in your opinion, does art depart from math and vice versa - or is it possible for the two to run parallel?

PV: The inspiration and the art go their separate ways when it is time to actually make something out of real materials. Now there are all of the technical difficulties and model making, real or virtual, and experimenting with various techniques, tools and equipment to get the job done. If the theoretical concept is a good one, it will stick with me, no problem.


Paul Vexler, Twisted, wood, 168 x 408 x 142 in.


F/WG: Your wood pieces are created in part utilizing your elaborate joinery process. Could you give us more insight into that process? How do you balance functionality with aesthetic in your work?

PV: Much of my work involves ribbons of one sort or another so I will spend a bit of time describing the process making ribbon sculptures.

The basis for all of my ribbon sculptures is working with materials, both in modeling and finished artworks, products that resist bending and push back to form fair curves. There is no math involved. Wood works really well because that is what it does when it is a part of a living tree. Plastics and tempered metals are good also and have the advantage of being available in long coils so that joinery is not required. Next comes the techniques for holding the ribbons in an aesthetically pleasing shape. This is usually done by pulling or suspending. If the sculpture is to be a rigid one, then it is supported with a temporary structure and the additional layers are added until it is self-supporting and has structural integrity. 

Functionality is in many ways uncompromising for a working sculptor. You need to be able to get the piece to the site, whole or in parts. It needs to be durable unless you want to make a switch to performance art like parades and exhibitions (which are extremely important forms of expression). If people can touch it, both the art and the people have to be safe. Cutting corners always leads to problems, so it is best to just live with the requirements.




F/WG: Recently you have begun using aluminum as a main component in your sculptures as opposed to wood. What first attracted you to the material, and what has surprised or delighted you about working with it?

PV: I started painting wood ribbons in 2011 when I made the "Big Yellow Knot" for a show at the Foster/White Gallery. Since then, I have mixed painted color and natural wood in many pieces. I have always felt that the color helps define the shapes more successfully but wood conveys many intangibles that attract people's attention.




Paul Vexler, Vertical Aluminum Ribbon #1, aluminum, 185 x 51 x 12 in.


Painted aluminum coil stock allows me to get directly to the sculptural form. There is no joinery and the material isn't fragile. This enables lots of opportunity for experimentation. I would never have been able to make the pieces for the Reno installation from wood and it was wonderful to take the ribbon concept to new heights, literally and figuratively.


To contribute to Paul Vexler's list of spaces, email us at, and to learn more and see available works please visit

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