Connect with us – Art History Stories

Art of the Brick – Nathan Sawaya’s Lego Works

Nathan Sawaya, Yellow, lego, Franklin Institute, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Source: Philatravelgirl, 2015


Art of the Brick – Nathan Sawaya’s Lego Works

Lego springs to mind as one of the key toys of many people’s childhoods. Whether building houses, spacecrafts or just stepping on that elusive piece, most people have some kind of experience with the little plastic building blocks. For some, however, it became a mean of artistic expression.

Nathan Sawaya takes building with legos to a whole new level. He left his job as New York corporate lawyer in 2001, and he is now a full-time lego artist based in Los Angeles. Not an easy transition, with doubts from friends and family, Sawaya commented, “when I was a lawyer I quickly came to realize I was more comfortable sitting on the floor creating sculptures than I was sitting in a boardroom negotiating contracts. My own personal conflicts and fears, coupled with a deep desire for overall happiness, paved the way to becoming a full-time working artist”. He would come home from work and use art as a way to unwind, gravitating more and more to using legos. It was a natural move for him saying that he “sees the world in rectangles.”

Nathan Sawaya next to his sculpture ‘Grasp’. Source: Fast Company, 2013

The Lego Company was created in Denmark in 1932. The word Lego comes from the Danish word Leg Godt meaning “play well”. Sawaya definitely plays well with his medium. He creates works that are larger than life, such as a 20 ft dinosaur made of 80,000 legos and poignant recreations of famous paintings by Monet and Munch. Sculptures are first sketched on brick paper or a Lego software to help deal with the physics for more complicated pieces. The work plays with a mixture of Pop Art, Surrealism and Pointillism due to the inherent nature of the material.

Nathan Sawaya, T-Rex, lego, Federatio Square, Melbourne, Australia. Source: Poppets Window 2011

Since 2007, his exhibition Art of the Brick has traveled the world, showcasing his unique approach to sculpture and inspiring kids of all ages to create on their own. So impressive and awe inspiring are the works, that he elevates and transcends the little plastic pieces. His sculptures of people are especially moving and thought provoking. He shows people in a state of transition or metamorphosis – exploring and questioning themselves and their lives, and powerful themes such as grief and doubt.

Nathan Sawaya, Red, lego. Source: Daily Beast, 2014

A key piece in the exhibition is Yellow, a life-sized self-portrait of the artist exposing and sharing himself with the world. It is a powerful example of the vulnerability and rawness in his work. The figure is not only tearing itself apart but building anew as well.

Nathan Sawaya, Yellow, lego, Franklin Institute, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Source: Philatravelgirl, 2015

There are several monochromatic figures. The solitary color is striking and is visually vivid. Metamorphosis shows a swimmer in the water, with droplets of water all around. There is a great sense of movement emerging from the plastic. Beside the statue are the artist’s words, “Swim against the current. Follow your path. Find the courage within.”

Nathan Sawaya, Metamorphosis, lego. Source: Avant Guardian

Another emotionally gripping piece is My Boy. A father holds his son in his arms.

Nathan Sawaya, My Boy, lego. Source: Avant guardian

Sawaya talks of the very personal and intimate nature of creation. Working on his art puts him in a trance, sometimes working up to 12 hours a day on a project for months. To him legos are accessible, and therefore very inspirational. Anyone can go home and start building with them. As intense as his work can be he says “My worst day as an artist is still better than my best day as a lawyer.”
In closing, my favorite and most resonating statement of his is that “Art makes better humans, art is necessary in understanding the world and art makes people happy. Undeniably, art is not optional”. A sentiment that all of here at DailyArt Magazine can completely agree with.
Learn more:

Giotto’s weeping angels started my love affair with art history.
Seattle, WA based.


More in Sculpture

  • 20th century

    It’s Not Always What It Seems: The Fabulous Inventions of Panamarenko


    Panamarenko steals from science and uses it in his art. He has designed planes and submarines that at first sight are perfectly capable of functioning, but don’t be misled: they are unique works of art that should be admired, not used. The Inspiration Started with Choosing...

  • 20th century

    A Feeling of Nostalgia: Art by Fu Wenjun


    For centuries, China was one of the greatest and wealthiest civilizations, and perhaps it is now returning to its historical position. Artist Fu Wenjun witnessed the recent rapid changes and that’s why his art is positioned on the border between the two worlds of tradition and...

  • Damien Hirst, Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable Damien Hirst, Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable

    19th Century

    Artists and Their Myths


    Sometimes, the story that is attached to an artist is as important as their craft. Let’s take a look at artists and the myths that are related to them. Though many think of myth as a fictional story, that is not always the case. In fact,...

  • geek art geek art

    21st century

    Geek Art


    The geek-art community has an affluent and acquisitive sub culture that has a seemingly insatiable thirst for paintings, models and sculptures. Pop culture, fantasy literature, comic books, manga, sci fi and cult movies – all of these have contributed to an exponential growth in life-like figures...

  • 21st century

    Lubaina Himid’s Dinner Service at the V&A


    In 2017, Lubaina Himid won the Turner Prize (and she was the oldest winner ever, aged 63!). Ten years before she presented her work Swallow Hard: The Lancaster Dinner Service at the Judges’ Lodgings in Lancaster, which from the 18th of May will be available to...

To Top

Just to let you know, DailyArt Magazine’s website uses cookies to personalise content and adverts, to provide social media features and to analyse traffic. Read cookies policy