Lego bricks make an unexpected entry into fine art galleries and museums with sophisticated brick sculptures and portraits by artist Nathan Sawaya.
A couple of years ago when jobs in New York were hard to come by, Nathan Sawaya did the unthinkable. He chucked up his comfortable day job as a corporate lawyer for the freedom to pursue Lego art on a full-time basis.
Traditionally considered a child’s plaything, Lego bricks are an unconventional art medium by any standard. As an artist, Nathan wanted to elevate this simple childhood toy to a place it has never been before: into fine art galleries and museums.
Nathan says he appreciates the cleanliness of the Lego brick besides the right angles and the distinct lines. “Up close, the shape of the brick is distinctive. But from a distance, those right angles and distinct lines change into curves. That is what drew me to the brick,” adds Nathan.
Earlier this year, Nathan collaborated with pop artist Lady Gaga to create a sculpture for her music video G.U.Y. He relates, “One of the main themes we discussed was about making art accessible. And one of the main reasons I use Lego bricks is to make my art accessible. So it felt like a natural fit to include my artwork in her new video.”
The next time the video plays on TV or you watch it on YouTube, keep your eyes peeled for a yellow brick torso with Lady Gaga’s head superimposed on top. It is a replica of one of Nathan’s iconic pieces titled ‘Yellow’, and features a man ripping his chest open, out of which come cascading hundreds of yellow bricks.
Nathan’s art primarily takes shape in 3-dimensional sculptures and oversized portraits and covers a wide range of subjects ranging from a T-Rex and famous personalities to architecture and food.
His artistic sensibilities and evolution as an artist becomes apparent in the project ‘In Pieces’, which is a collaboration with photographer Dean West, wherein Lego art blends seamlessly into the American landscape making a subtle commentary on culture as a social and literal construct.
“Often my art is a re-enactment of my personal feelings,” discloses the artist whose work has travelled to galleries across the world entertaining and inspiring viewers in its wake. Possibly the first artist to take Lego into the realm of art, Nathan displays an exceptional talent for spatial visualisation combined with a keen sense of scale and colour.
Lego crazed fans struggling to scale the high peaks of excellence that Nathan already has may find it inspiring to hear him talk about perseverance as an important ingredient for success. “Every sculpture brings its own difficulties and challenges. Some of these challenges take longer than others to overcome, but I rarely abandon an idea once I have fully started working on it.”
Like any successful artist, Nathan approaches his work diligently and with discipline. He says, “Once I am inspired I draw out my idea. I am always carrying my sketch pad so that I can draw out my ideas as they come to me. Before I start building, I try and plan out as much as possible. I want to envision in my mind what the finished sculpture will look like before I put down that first brick.
Once he starts building, he actually glues the bricks together as an added precaution against accidental falls. But the glued bricks can pose a problem if he makes a mistake. What then? “Well, I’m good with a hammer and chisel too,” he responds cheerfully.
While typical reactions to Nathan’s art range from awe and disbelief to sheer curiosity about how he does it, Nathan recalls a memorable incident wherein an onlooker was moved to tears by his sculpture of a figure holding a child in its arms. “She no longer saw the sculpture as a child’s toy, but let the emotion of the piece come through,” he says summing up the essence of his contribution to Lego art.
With roughly four million bricks to his name across his art studios in New York and Los Angeles, Nathan is perhaps the envy of most children down his block. But it’s not just kids who look up to him as an icon.
Last year as his travelling exhibition ‘The Art of the Brick’ debuted in New York, even adults sat up and took notice of Lego as a legitimate art medium, a medium capable of doing more than just building toy cars and trucks.
Nathan signs off saying, “I want to inspire others to create. I hope that when they see my artwork they are inspired to create art on their very own.”
Text By Christabelle Athaide
Photographs Courtesy Nathan Sawaya and brickartist.com