| Marc Schaefer |
LONDON (dpa) – Nathan Sawaya’s success story began with a dog. Denied a pet as a 10-year-old, he made up for the disappointment by building his own four-legged friend out of Lego bricks.
His new pet was lifesize but also multi-coloured and rather square, says Sawaya. Since then, he has perfected his art.
Now 41, the US artist is exhibiting 80 of his impressive sculptures in London until January 4 in a show titled The Art of the Brick.
The collection features everything from interpretations of classical masterpieces to a six-metre-long dinosaur – all made out of the construction toy, which is produced by Lego Group of Billund, Denmark.
More than one million bricks and 4,200 hours of construction work went into the exhibition at the Old Truman Brewery, the address of which, appropriately enough, is in trendy east London’s Brick Lane.
CNN has called the show – which more than a million visitors have seen since 2007 in North America, Asia, Europe and Australia – one of the “world’s ten must-see exhibitions.”
Londoners are now arriving in their droves to the basement rooms of the former brewery to admire the Lego sculptures, which include Sawaya’s take on Michelangelo’s David, Venus de Milo, and Rodin’s The Thinker – in battleship grey.
Even the Mona Lisa has been included – if looking somewhat pixellated.
Sawaya’s work switches between a children’s bedroom and an art gallery. Some could even be featured in Legoland. Nobody there would think to call them art. But with others, he forces the viewer to think.
“The Art of the Brick is simultaneously dumb and eerily thought-provoking,” wrote the Independent.
“Incomplete” for example, shows a man missing part of his body. “Mask” shows a person effectively taking his face off.
Human bodies are Sawaya’s favourite subject. That includes his potentially most famous work, “Yellow” which depicts a man’s torso, split open and spilling out bricks.
“I’ve created human forms with all their intricate curves but made out of little rectangles,” says Sawaya.
From a distance, the corners and edges of his work really do disappear.
“As so often in life, it is a matter of perspective. Up close, the shape of the brick is distinctive. But from a distance, those right angles and distinct lines change to curves,” says the artist.
He gave up his job as a lawyer in 2002 and since then has built a second career out of Lego. He feels much more at ease creating his sculptures than negotiating contracts in boardrooms, he says.
Lego is his medium because it makes his art accessible, he says. After all, practically everyone in the world has at some point come into contact with the colourful bricks.
Sawaya himself still regularly gets Lego from his parents at birthdays and Christmas.
“It’s kind of a running joke,” he says.
For his first exhibition in England, the American has made a special effort: Visitors can admire a Lego version of the Beatles as well as a red telephone box.
Both are at least as famous as his favourite toy.