A few weeks ago I did a post about Lego art, and I featured a few pieces that were above and beyond the others. After doing some research I found the artist behind those pieces, Nathan Sawaya. Some artists use paint, others bronze – But for Nathan Sawaya he chooses to build his awe-inspiring art out of toy building blocks. LEGO® bricks to be exact.
With more than 1.5 million colored bricks in his New York studio, Sawaya’s sculptures take many forms.
I asked Nathan about his work and what he does it’s really very interesting!
What Inspires You In Your Work?
Inspiration comes from many places and people. I can never point to just one thing and say that has been my inspiration. I have been inspired by people I have met, locations to where I have traveled, and something as simple as a tree. It all depends on my current state of mind. Sometimes I have been inspired by something but it will take years for the idea to develop and come to fruition before I actually start building it. Also, I live in New York City, and when I get stuck on a specific, I will often just take a walk in the city and usually that leads to some sort of inspiration.
I also am inspired by the viewers of my artwork. One of my goals with my art is to show people things they haven’t seen before. I love people’s strong reactions to my work, and I am inspired to create things in order to illicit those reactions. For example, my sculpture Yellow, has a human figure tearing open his chest while thousands of LEGO bricks spill out on the floor. People have had such amazing reactions to the piece partially because they have never seen LEGO being used in such a way. I am inspired to push how LEGO is used as a medium.
When did you start playing with legos?
It was Christmas 1978 when I received my first box of LEGO bricks from my Grandparents. I remember ripping into the package and building a LEGO house right then, oblivious to the rest of Christmas morning. It seems like I have been creating with LEGO ever since that day. Of course, these days my LEGO creations are a little bigger than a toy house.
Playing with LEGO growing up let me build anything I wanted to build. It let my imagination control the playtime. If I wanted to be a rock star that day, I could build myself a guitar. If I wanted to be an astronaut, I could build myself a rocket. It was the perfect tool to lead me into my current life as an artist, where I get to create whatever I want. And get paid for it!
With some other toys, if you lost a piece, then the whole toy couldn’t be played with, but not with LEGO bricks. If you lost one LEGO brick, you just had to be creative and find some other way to build it.
That creativity led me to becoming a full time artist. As an artist LEGO is a great medium for creating anything I can imagine. I still use those same rectangular plastic bricks that I had as a child, but now I try and use them in a way that hasn’t been seen before. By taking the bricks and making them more of an art medium rather than only a toy.
By using LEGO as an art medium, I have been able to put together an entire museum exhibit that is currently touring North America. It has become a very popular exhibit as both kids and adults are attracted to the idea of artwork created solely out of LEGO.
How long have you been making Lego Sculptures?
I have been fooling around with sculpture all of my life, but it was about nine years ago that I challenged myself to create a large scale sculpture using only LEGO bricks. It got a good response and I soon put together a few more pieces. I posted photos of my works on my website, brickartist.com, and soon thereafter I was getting commissions from all over the world.
At the time I was reading a book of Tom Friedman’s art. Among other things, Friedman uses non-traditional media to create sculptures. I was inspired and I realized then that LEGO art was a viable option. I went on to publish own book, “The Art of the Brick,” which is a collection of my works from the past few years. I hope kids use it to become inspired to be their own artists.
What’s a usual day like for a guy who plays with Legos all day?
I have to run my art studio like any other business. Yes, I work in a room surrounded by 1.5 million LEGO bricks, but I also have to answer emails, draft client proposals and manage the day to day stuff of running a business.
Now the fun part of my job is that at some point I get to sit at my desk and pull out thousands of LEGO bricks and start building. I usually have a few projects going on at one time, depending on the deadlines, so there is always something to work on.
It’s a pretty fun job.
Where can people see more or buy more of your work?
I love when people see my work in their homes because that means they have commissioned something. I get commissions from around the world, and love the challenges that people come up with for me.
I also have two museum exhibitions that are currently touring North America. The tour schedule can be found here:
Additionally, I have an upcoming solo gallery show at the Flinn Gallery in Greenwich, CT opening September 17 and running through October 28, 2009.
And, of course, people can always check out my online gallery for my latest creations at www.brickartist.com.
How long is the longest you’ve spent on a piece?
The longest I have spent on a piece of art from germination of the idea to final fruition
is over two years. And that would be for my series Red, Blue and Yellow, which I
thought of long before I put down the first brick.
As for the longest time spent on a project without interruption, that would have to
be the Dinosaur Skeleton which I spent a whole summer working on. It measures 20 feet
long from skull to tailbone.
Below are samples of his work! You can see more of Nathans’ work at his website www.brickartist.com