Speaker Spotlight: Robert Lang

Hear from TED Talk Contributor, Robert Lang, at Morikami on Friday, December 9th (advance ticket purchase required)


Q How long have you been creating origami pieces?

I’ve been folding origami since the age of 6, and began creating my own designs by around 10 or 11. So, I’ve been creating my own designs for about 45 years.

Q What first interested you in the art of origami?

It was a combination of it being an interesting puzzle and challenge, and a way to create beautiful and interesting objects with nothing more than my hands and a sheet of paper.

Q We understand that you are a part of the scientific community, how has your professional career in science influenced your work in origami or vice versa?

My scientific training gave me the tools to describe origami problems mathematically and solve them. So, when I conceived of an artistic goal I wanted to achieve, even if the way of achieving it wasn’t obvious, if I could describe it mathematically, then I could use the tools and techniques of mathematics to solve the mathematical problem, and then turn that back into guidance on how to fold the figure I was trying to create.

Q Which origami artists have been inspirational to you?

The list is pretty long! One of my first books, Secrets of Origami by Robert Harbin, presented works by 15 or 20 different artists, all of whom served as inspiration. During my teenage years, I corresponded with American origami artist Neal Elias, who had an outsized impact on my folding. Other artist who have influenced me over the years include the great Japanese master, Akira Yoshizawa, and such modern masters as John Montroll, Michael LaFosse, and Eric Joisel.

Q Which piece of yours would you consider your magnum opus?

I wouldn’t put that label on any particular piece. Each new design addresses a new challenge, and so the answer to that question, if any, would be “my most recent work.”

Q What was the most challenging origami piece you have ever created and how long did it take?

One of the most challenging was a cactus (with spines); I didn’t finish it until 7 years after I had started folding.

Q The exhibition Above the Fold: New Expressions in Origami challenges traditional views on the art form. What is your view on origami created with unconventional media and have you ever created such a piece?

My definition of origami is: “a form of sculpture in which folding is the primary means of creating the artwork.” By that definition, all of the work in Above the Fold is origami, and there is no restriction of media, as long as it can be folded. Thus, I have created origami not only from paper, but from materials as diverse as polymers, sheet metal, metal mesh, wood, composites, multilayer laminates, cast bronze, fabricated steel, and more.

Q During your Ted Talk, you discuss how mathematics influenced the evolution of origami. What do you see as a culmination of this trend?

I don’t see there being a culmination, but rather, a continuing (and never-ending) evolution of the art. Origami, for the past few decades, has undergone a radiation, with different artists taking the art in different directions, all at the same time. Those like myself, who use mathematics, will continue to create new shapes using mathematics and realize ever more diverse visions.

Q You have written several books and traveled extensively giving talks about the art of origami, so what is your next big project or talk?

By coincidence, at the same time that Above the Fold is showing in Delray Beach, I have work in another exhibition across the state, in Naples, Florida, of origami cast in aluminum, bronze, and stainless steel, in collaboration with sculptor Kevin Box. I’ll be traveling over there and doing lectures and workshops in the days following my lecture at the Morikami Museum and Gardens.


Robert J. Lang has been an avid student of origami for over forty years and is now recognized as one of the world’s leading masters of the art, with over 500 designs catalogued and diagrammed. He is noted for designs of great detail and realism, and includes in his repertoire some of the most complex origami designs ever created. His work combines aspects of the Western school of mathematical origami design with the Eastern emphasis upon line and form to yield models that are at once distinctive, elegant, and challenging to fold. They have been shown in exhibitions in New York (Museum of Modern Art), Paris (Carrousel du Louvre), Salem (Peabody Essex Museum), San Diego (Mingei Museum of World Folk Art), and Kaga, Japan (Nippon Museum of Origami), among others. 

Leave a Comment