Working as a lawyer, US artist Nathan Sawaya came to the realisation that he was much more comfortable sitting on the floor creating objects than sitting in a boardroom negotiating contracts. And so began his passion for creating artworks from unlikely building blocks, namely LEGO.
While it’s easy to marvel at the skill and precision required to make such intricate sculptures out of LEGO bricks (particularly when I consider my own meagre LEGO attempts as a child), the sculptures as works of art are incredible.
Rather than evoking a mere sense of nostalgia, Sawaya elevates his materials beyond their primary purpose and urges visitors to engage and identify with the sculptures as a whole. As writer Scott Jones mused on Sawaya’s work, “You don’t look at Roy Lichtenstein’s work and think ‘nice comics’. You don’t look at something by Warhol and say, ‘that reminds me, I need to pick up a few cans of minestrone on the way home’.”
Sawaya’s current focus is the human form, which is evident in the multiple sculptures capturing human emotions including Thinker, reminiscent of Rodin’s renowned sculpture, and Mask. However, his sculptures cover a variety of subjects from the whimsical to the sombre, including the Parthenon, fruit and an enormous six-metre long Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Showing alongside Sawaya’s sculptures are a number of works by the Melbourne LEGO Users Group, who have fashioned a number of Melbourne icons from LEGO, including Puffing Billy, Queen Victoria Market and the Shrine of Remembrance. If you visit the exhibition early on, you'll also get the chance to place your 'brick in the wall' and help create a mystery mosaic featuring a famous Melbourne icon. Measuring 4.5 metres wide by 2.2 metres high, the mosaic will be made up of 168,000 LEGO bricks when completed and weigh 350kg.
The Art of the Brick is now open at Federation Square and will run for at least two months.