LEGO is out of the toy box and into the art gallery. New York-based contemporary artist and celebrated sculptor Nathan Sawaya is in South Florida with a new collection of artwork entitled In Pieces, a multimedia collaboration with award-winning Australian photographer Dean West.
Through this unique collaboration guests can see LEGOs in an entirely new way through a series of large-scale tableau compositions based on ideas about nature, culture, society and more specifically, identity. The collection also includes a combination of visually stunning two-dimensional images that are exhibited with corresponding and complimentary three-dimensional LEGO sculptures.
Born in Colville, Washington and raised in Veneta, Oregon, Sawaya?s childhood dreams were always fun. He drew cartoons, wrote stories, perfected magic tricks and also played with LEGO. Sawaya attended NYU School of Law and became a practicing attorney. But soon he realized he would rather be sitting on the floor expressing himself with LEGO bricks, than sitting in a board room negotiating contracts. It was then that Sawaya rediscovered his LEGO bricks and indulged in his inner child to create a new job for himself, as well as, what many believe is a new art revolution using LEGO.
With full-time working studios in New York and Los Angeles, Nathan has 2.5 million LEGO bricks at his immediate disposal to craft large-scale sculptures for collectors, galleries and companies. His work is obsessively and painstakingly crafted and is both beautiful and playful. Sawaya?s ability to transform LEGO bricks into something new, his devotion to scale and color perfection, the way he conceptualizes the action of the subject matter, enables him to elevate an ordinary toy to the status of fine art.
Inspiring for kids young and old, Nathan recently talked about his art as well as how he started working with LEGO’s as an art form.
How did the idea to work with LEGO’s come about?
Nathan Sawaya: I had sculpted out of more traditional media, but a few years ago I really wanted to challenge myself with something different. I had always had LEGO bricks growing up, so it just kind of made sense to attempt a large scale sculpture using LEGO bricks. After a few creations, my friends and family encouraged me to keep doing more sculptures solely out of LEGO, so I put a website together, brickartist.com, where I could showcase my artwork in a virtual gallery. Soon I was getting commissions from all over the world, and I realized there was something to this LEGO art form.
What do you find satisfying about working in this medium?
I love seeing people?s reactions to my artwork when they see it for the first time. People are familiar with LEGO bricks as a toy, so it is fun to see how they can react when it is used as art. Folks can relate to my art on a different level because they are so familiar with the medium as a child?s plaything. Because everyone has snapped a few LEGO bricks together, the art is very accessible.
And the best part is that my art inspires people. After seeing one of my exhibitions, lots of people go home, dig out their LEGO bricks, and start creating. In fact, I recently put together a new art book, The Art of Nathan Sawaya, so that kids could be inspired at home.
How long does a project generally take?
Ask any eight year-old, the more bricks, the longer it takes. The size of the sculpture determines how long it will take to finish. For example a sculpture of a life-size human form can take up to two to three weeks. You have to have patience if you want to do this job. And a lot of bricks. Fortunately, I have several million bricks in my art studio.
Are there pieces that are more complicated to work with than others?
I focus on using those traditional rectangular bricks I had growing up. When you look at one of my sculptures up close, you see a lot of tiny right angles made up from all of the LEGO bricks stacked upon one another. But then when you step away from the sculpture, and see it from a bit further back, all of those sharp corners tend to blend into curves, and you really see the art for what it is.
Do you have a plan what you are going to make before you start creating?
I envision in my mind what the final sculpture will look like before I put down that first brick. I try and sketch out my ideas so I have a plan as to where to start. On, In Pieces, Dean West and I would spend hours and hours sketching out plans for the work. The result is a fun multimedia exhibition that combines my 3D LEGO sculptures with Dean?s hyper-realistic photography.
TO GO: In Pieces opens June 7 in Hollywood. Sawaya will give an artist talk to open the exhibition as well as be on hand to autograph books and answer questions. A room adjacent to the exhibition allows visitors to explore and make their own LEGO creations. Runs through Aug. 17. $10. 11am – 5pm. Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, 1650 Harrison St; Hollywood. For info: 954-921-3274 or artandculturecenter.org