His global touring exhibition The Art of the Brick has broken attendance records and was rated as one of the world’s “Must See Exhibitions” by CNN. His production has been critically acclaimed, shown in major art institutions throughout the world since 2007 and held in prominent public and private collections. He is the author of two bestselling books and has collaborated with the likes of Lady Gaga and Jonathan Coulton. We are talking about Nathan Sawaya, the ‘Brick Artist’ who earned a top position in the world of contemporary art with his sculptures made entirely of LEGO bricks.
With his pieces, the artist has created a new dimension by merging Pop Art and Surrealism in awe-inspiring and groundbreaking ways. We had the chance to talk to Sawaya about his creative process, the role of art in the human experience and his transition from attorney to full-time artist.
Mr. Sawaya, what are you working on at the moment?
I am working on something new about the human condition, but you’ll have to wait and see. I recently finished a new sculpture of Udo Lindenberg that is currently on display in Hamburg.
How many hours of work does one of your pieces typically require?
It depends on the size and complexity of the sculpture. Some take days, some weeks, and some even take months. For a life-size human form, it can take up to two-three weeks.
The creative process opens one’s mind to a world of possibilities. How do you decide themes and forms in your sculptures?
Sometimes I have a particular message I am trying to convey. Sometimes it is just a simple emotion I want to evoke. For example, in the sculpture ‘Grasp’, I depicted a life-size human form in red pulling away from a dark gray wall. And from the wall several arms are grabbing at the red figure. This piece is about my career transition from lawyer to artist, and those people in my life that were holding me back.
“X-Ray”. Plastic Bricks. 54 x 24 x 10 inches © Nathan Sawaya
Perspective plays a role in your sculptures, as the bricks are rather sharp at a close distance. Which particular insights did this aspect of your work provide you with?
The challenge is how to make round objects out of rectangular bricks. I like the distinct lines of using bricks. The sharp corners. The right angles. When you see one of my sculptures up close, you see all those rectangles. But when you back away from the sculpture and look at it from a different perspective, all those hard corners blend into soft curves. That is the magic of sculpting with LEGO bricks.
Sculpting, especially with LEGO, requires a great sense of structure and a mathematical outlook on reality. What do you think about structure in art?
I think there is definitely a place for structure in art. It is not a requirement, however. Sometimes it is a detriment. Again, it depends on the piece. For example, there was a definite need of engineering and structure in my sculpture of a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton.
Many of your pieces focus on human forms and evoking feelings. What do you feel is art’s role in the human experience?
Art’s role is to captivate you for as long as it can hold your attention, to make you think, to upset conventional thinking and to inspire you.
“Green”. Plastic Bricks. 70 x 27 x 15 inches © Nathan Sawaya
In 2014, you created the Art Revolution Foundation, which aims to bring art back into American schools, as well as to support organizations providing art therapy. Which benefits can art bring to our everyday lives?
I believe that art is not optional. Creating art makes people happier, smarter and just better people. I think it is important for individuals to express their creativity. I’m not saying that people need to spend months on a giant LEGO sculpture. But a little art, maybe some finger-painting with the kids, or even just a bit of doodling or crafting will make you a happier person. So in the end, I hope my exhibition inspires people to create a little art themselves. It has been proven that kids do better when art is part of their academic curriculum, so it is not optional, it is necessary to have art in our schools.
Did going from being a lawyer to a full-time artist change your outlook on reality? If yes, how?
It was scary, but also completely liberating. I was in control of my own destiny and the first morning I woke up after leaving the law firm was the beginning of what has turned out to be a truly thrilling adventure. These days, I say that the worst day as an artist is still better than the best day as a lawyer
What piece of advice would you give to a would-be artist?
Have patience. Things can take time, but don’t give up. Oh, and you don’t always have to follow the instructions.
The Art of the Brick exhibition is currently in Seattle, Hamburg, Myrtle Beach and Mansfield.
Interview by Livia Formisani