When artist Nathan Sawaya was a 10-year-old growing up in Veneta, Oregon, his parents refused to let him get a puppy. “So I ended up building a life-sized LEGO dog,” says Sawaya from his Los Angeles art studio, which houses roughly 5 million LEGO bricks at any given time. That same childlike whimsy courses through his exhibition, The Art of the Brick, which has grown from a solo art show of less than two dozen pieces in 2007 to five different touring exhibits. The largest of those, featuring more than 110 pieces made entirely of LEGO bricks, is currently on display at the Cincinnati Museum Center. “I didn’t expect it to be at this level when I started,” says Sawaya. “People connected to the artwork really quickly.” Here’s a look into his most talked about creation.
It Was All Yellow
Sawaya titled this sculpture Yellow, an intentionally vague name meant to allow viewers to derive their own meaning from the piece. “I thought if I said something like Innards of One’s Soul, that might influence someone a little bit.”
Mix and Match
The Art of the Brick features more than 50 original creations, including Yellow, as well as LEGO interpretations of artistic classics such as Grant Wood’s American Gothic and Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, along with replicas of architectural marvels such as the Parthenon.
Color Me Bad
Sawaya uses only standard LEGO bricks and never paints or alters the color. He likes the challenge it provides, but more than that, he wants to facilitate creativity: “I want people to be able to get the same version that I use.”
Slow and Steady
While Sawaya can create a life-sized build—featuring upwards of 20,000 bricks—in two to three weeks, Yellow took a bit longer. The idea came to him two years before he started laying bricks, and after several stops and starts, took more than three months to complete.
brick by brick
Yellow is made of 11,014 LEGO bricks, which doesn’t even come close to the exhibit’s largest piece. Creations range from reasonable, like a 1,292-brick apple display, to gargantuan, like the 80,020-brick dinosaur skeleton.
Stuck Like Glue
For each piece, Sawaya glues the bricks as he goes. The bricks that appear to be spilling out of the body, however? Well, those are loose. “I thought if I glued them, they’d lose that look,” says Sawaya.