Los Angeles — “The Art of the Brick” is a new exhibition by LEGO Brick artist Nathan Sawaya inside the California Science Center in Los Angeles. It includes over 120 hand-built sculptures made out of LEGOs.
I spoke exclusively with The Brick artist, Mr. Nathan Sawaya via Zoom. He works out of an art studio with over 1 million Lego bricks at any given time.
At what age did you first start playing with LEGOs?
“I got my first LEGO set when I was five years old Christmas morning from my grandparents. I tore into it immediately and started building.”
What was your inspiration for this new Art of the Brick exhibit?
“As I said I had LEGO bricks as a kid. As I grew up, I experimented with other artistic forms and eventually came back to LEGO years later. It was over 10 years ago when I started an exhibition that really consisted of 24 sculptures. That’s just grown and grown. Now, the Art of the Brick is over 120 works of art. There’s actually multiple exhibitions on tour around the globe. I’m very excited to be introducing this to Los Angeles where it’s an exhibition that has a lot of new pieces and hopefully a lot of people will enjoy it.”
Sawaya works out of his studio in Los Angeles. How does it feel to have this show open in your hometown?
“It’s exciting because I’ve never done a major art exhibition in Los Angeles. It’s great to have friends and family who are in town go and see the exhibition. Some for the first time to see my art in display in this format so it’s really great.”
Please describe a few of the LEGO masterpieces in the exhibit.
“It’s a broad spectrum of work throughout my entire career. Some of the works are very representational. One of the opening galleries actually is representational works of famous art pieces: The Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo all out of LEGO bricks. It’s a great way to talk to younger kids about art because they are familiar with LEGO as a toy and this is a way to introduce them to famous works of art from all of history. Other parts of the exhibition include galleries that have more original works—more focused on human forms, a lot of different human forms and messaging and emotions put into those pieces.”
“Then, there’s some whimsical pieces and there’s a new section called ‘PERNiCiEM’ which is large animals, mostly endangered species, we had taken and photographed in their environment. So you see these large photos, for example, a polar bear, it’s in the Arctic. We traveled the globe. I worked with a photographer, Dean West, and travelled to all of these places. The Arctic Circle, we went to Central America, we went to Africa and we took all of these photos. That’s a new part of the exhibit. All of the sculptures are there as well. There’s a lot to see.”
As you mentioned, you work alongside your photographer. Do you get the picture first and then work off of the picture?
“Not necessarily. It depends on what we are working on. For example, we did a series called ‘In Pieces’. We took household objects like an umbrella. We’d have the talent hold the umbrella and photograph them with water coming down to depict them in the rain. It just depends on the setup for each one.”
It looks like you are doing this interview from your studio…
“I have about 10 million LEGO bricks in my studio at any given time. I like to keep a huge inventory so that when I’m working on something, I just grab what I need and not have to think about buying bricks. So I keep a big inventory.”
I understand the largest sculpture is one of the T-Rex dinosaur?
“Yeah, there’s a Tyrannosaurus rex sculpture. I did that right after the first time I ever showed my works. I did this solo show and I saw kids coming to the show and I thought, what do kids really love? Well, they love dinosaurs so I spent three months working on a dinosaur skeleton. It’s over 18 feet long and yeah it’s one of the larger pieces that I’ve ever done.”
When you constructed that one did you build it in the studio and ship it over there or did you have to take it apart and then reassemble it?
“Yeah, it breaks down into 11 different sections. It’s so big and requires a lot of the engineering. It does have to break down and reassemble. But most of the other sculptures are one pieces that come out of the crate and set into place.”
I saw you have a sculpture called ‘The Swimmer’ and another one called ‘The Wave.’ Those are perfect for Southern California!
“I suppose so, yeah. The Swimmer is pretty popular. It’s the upper half of a woman’s body who is swimming. The water is made up of thousands and thousands of loose LEGO bricks.”
I’m sure a lot of people are wondering…How long does it take to build some of these sculptures?
“It’s a good question. It just depends on the size and the complexity of the sculptures. For example, a life-size human form can take up to two to three weeks. I’m going to use anywhere from 15,000-25,000 Lego bricks.”
The LEGO bricks that you have…do you go in a store to buy them or just contact the LEGO company?
“I have a good business relationship with the LEGO company at this point. Yeah, when I first started out, I was just buying them. But these days, I still buy them but I buy them directly from LEGO. LEGO is based in Europe as you may know and I have them shipped over. I am a very unique customer because I buy hundreds of thousands of bricks every month. Fortunately, Lego sorts them all for me. When I receive them, they are all sorted. Here is a box of all red bricks, here’s blue bricks. It’s all sorted by shape and size and as you can see behind me I keep that sorting so I know where everything is when I’m working.”
What are you working on right now currently?
“I am always taking on new projects. I am working on a commission right now that I can’t really talk about actually. I always have fun with commissions because people contact me everyday and say, ‘Hey, can you make me this? Can you make me that?’ It’s a fun part of my job to see these different projects. Unfortunately, I can’t take on every project. It’s a blessing, actually, that I can pick and choose different projects. That has been something that has always been great.”
What do you want attendees to know when they check out the exhibit?
“Well, I think ‘The Art of the Brick’ is something for the whole family. There’s so much to see. There’s many different galleries, many different types of works. I really do hope that when people see it they get inspired to, you know, create a little more in their life. I’m not saying they need to spend three months building a dinosaur but a little more doodling, maybe some finger painting, anytime you are doing more creative works, it just puts you in a better mood.”
‘The Art of the Brick’ will remain on display at the California Science Center through the end of 2021. Advance tickets are required and may be purchased online at: https://californiasciencecenter.org/exhibits/the-art-of-the-brick