The artist who has divided opinion in America is set to step foot in the UK. Nathan Sawaya has a huge following across the world but not everyone is a fan of his work, why? Because the acclaimed artist uses Lego bricks as his medium.
The building blocks that children have played with for decades form Sawaya’s most intricate pieces of work, including ‘Yellow’, the head and torso of a man built entirely with yellow bricks, ripping open his chest to expose more of the same spilling out. Yellow consists of 11,014 individual Lego bricks, whilst other works such as ‘Blue Guy Sitting’ utilise 21,054.
Sawaya heads up a relatively new movement of adults who are rediscovering the pleasure of working with Lego again. He is now bringing his “Art of the Brick” exhibition to London, which will open at The Old Truman Brewery in the East End on 26th September.
Amongst his more famous pieces include interpretations of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Mona Lisa and Rodin’s The Thinker, and while some people might not appreciate his modern take on the old classics, there are plenty of critics that do:
“It is difficult to pass a version of Rodin’s Thinker or see Mr Sawaya’s life-size piece Blue Guy Sitting and not smile in amazement at the ambition or admire the skill,” said an art critic at The New York Times of his exhibition in the city last year.
Sawaya, who once worked on Wall Street as a lawyer, turned to Lego to relieve the stress of his busy employment, and now houses around four million bricks in his studios in Los Angeles and New York. The 41 year-old artist was given his first Lego set at the age of five and hasn’t looked back since. In fact, his artwork now sells for five-figure sums, and he showcases his pieces in exhibitions across the world.
When Sawaya was studying to be a lawyer, he constructed his first works of art, Manhattan skylines at night, and hid the pieces under his bed. He got a job at Legoland California before going it alone in New York:
“Part of my mission is to make art accessible,” he added, “If someone sees a marble statue, they can appreciate it, but it’s doubtful they’ll go home and have marble they can start chipping at.”
Sawaya forms part of a growing appreciation of Lego called ‘Fans of Lego’ or Afols. There are many websites dedicated to these fans, including Brick Fanatics, founded by Richard Hayes in 2010. This particular site holds competitions such as the Golden Brickies Award for the best Star Wars inspired Lego creation. Prizes include a year’s supply of LEGO Star Wars goodies and a bespoke LEGO C-3PO award:
“Since then I’ve seen the community almost triple,” said Mr Hayes, who added: “Adults are a growing market for Lego. This year alone they’ve launched half a dozen sets aimed at us.”
Hayes is undecided as to whether Lego can be described as art: “I’ll leave that to the critics to decide,” he said.
As for Sawaya, he is in not doubt, but didn’t have the best of starts when he began creating his masterpieces:
“When I started galleries were slamming their doors in my face. Now they’re knocking on my door.”
Check out the Art of the Brick exhibition http://brickartist.com/.