Nathan Sawaya talks about his LEGO exhibition, The Art of the Brick: DC Superheroes
- Murray Robertson
- 3 March 2017
Exhibition features over 120 sculptures crafted entirely from LEGO bricks
For the past decade, former lawyer Nathan Sawaya has been exhibiting his extraordinary sculptures created entirely from LEGO. Now, on London's South Bank, Sawaya's latest exhibition is on show, a celebration of LEGO and comic book characters, titled The Art of the Brick: DC Super Heroes.
'I had this idea of doing an exhibition that focused on good and evil and the idea of heroes and villains,' explains Sawaya. 'I grew up watching Super Friends, I was a big Batman fan and I watched the TV show in syndication when I was a kid. So I've always been a fan of superheroes.'
Astonishingly, the new exhibition comprises over 120 sculptures crafted from more than two million LEGO bricks, all based on characters from the DC universe. It took Sawaya about 18 months to complete. 'The Batmobile was quite an undertaking,' he says. 'It's one of the largest things I've ever built and it took me two months to create in collaboration with Jim Lee, the legendary comic book artist. He's drawn hundreds of Batmobiles in the comics over the years and so I talked to him about it. He sketched out some ideas and we came up with a brand new Batmobile for this exhibition.'
Back home in Los Angeles, Sawaya has a specially stocked art studio filled with six million LEGO bricks. 'They're all sorted by shape and colour so I can immediately find what I need. But I'm a very unique customer,' he says with some understatement. 'I'm buying hundreds of thousands of bricks every month direct from LEGO.'
Perhaps surprisingly, Sawaya's process doesn't start with LEGO bricks in hand. 'Once I have an idea there's a lot of sketching and visualising in my mind what the final piece is going to look like before I even put down that first brick,' he explains. 'As I work I glue the bricks together one by one, so it's a slow process. And if I make a mistake I actually have to use a hammer and chisel to break it apart. You definitely need patience for this job'.
Ironically, Sawaya's 17-year-old son 'has no interest in LEGO'. But Sawaya has been a fan of the bricks since childhood. 'When I was a kid I realised you can build anything you can imagine. If you want to pretend to be a rock star you can build a guitar; if you want to pretend to be an astronaut: build a rocket ship.'
It was during his time as a lawyer that Sawaya realised his talent for sculpture. 'I was practising law and I would come home in the evening and I'd need some sort of creative outlet,' he explains. 'Sometimes it was drawing and sometimes it was sculpting. And I'd sculpt out of more traditional media like clay and wire. Then one day I just thought of LEGO bricks and I started experimenting and really trying to find a way to bring LEGO into the art world.'
Some years passed before he was able to make the transition from law to art. 'I had put a website together to showcase a virtual gallery of my work and people started contacting me, commissioning projects. I was spending full days with the law firm and then six hours in the evening taking on these commissions. And after a while it became clear that there was something to this and I left the law firm behind to become a full-time artist that plays with toys.'
The Art of the Brick is on at Doon Street Car Park, London, until Mon 4 Sep.