A new exhibition of incredible Lego sculptures is opening at the Truman Brewery this week. Created by New York artist Nathan Sawaya, ‘The Art of the Brick’ features works made from thousands of ordinary bricks and has already toured the world. Last night we held a special preview of the exhibition for Time Out Cardholders, and took a moment to catch up with Nathan himself.
Did you play with Lego as a child?
‘The first time I played with Lego was when I was five years old. It was Christmas morning and I built myself a house. When I was about ten years old I wanted a dog and my parents said I couldn’t get one so I made one. It was life-size but very colourful and boxy – I called it Boxer.’
Did you stick to the rules of the sets or freestyle?
‘I realised early on that it didn’t matter what was on the front of the box, I could make whatever I wanted. If I wanted to be a rockstar, I’d make a guitar, if I wanted to be an astronaut, I’d make a spaceship.’
Do your family love Lego too?
‘I don’t actually keep any Lego in the house. For me I keep it at the art studio. My parents still buy me Lego bricks for every birthday and Christmas though. It’s kind of a running joke at this point. I’m happy to sit down with the sets every once and a while and just have a play.’
How do you develop the concepts for your sculptures?
‘It depends. A lot of it has to do with travelling. Having multiple exhibitions all over the globe I do get to travel a lot and I use that as the basis of inspiration. I take a little sketchbook with me, I jot down ideas as I go.’
Are the bricks you use specially sourced?
‘These are just standard bricks you can get in any toy store. The thinking being that if someone is inspired to go home and build something on their own they can go to their local toy store and get the same colours, shapes and sizes of bricks.’
Do you order in a lot of Lego?
‘Yeah – I order in by the tens of thousands. My art studios hold about four million bricks at any given time.’
What’s your favourite colour of brick?
‘It changes from time to time depending on the project but I do love working in grey. There are two shades – a darker and a lighter grey – and I’m happy with either one of those. I can put a lot of emotion into my sculptures just using the grey colours.’
What’s the biggest sculpture you’ve made?
‘The largest piece here in the exhibition is the T-Rex skeleton which is 20ft long. It took me an entire summer to build. When I did my very first exhibition I was amazed how many kids came to visit. They’d never been to an art museum before but they were there because this art was made out of their favourite toy. I wanted to give back to those kids so thought long and hard about what they really love – and they love dinosaurs.’
How do you find people react to your exhibitions?
‘It’s a type of art that people can really connect with because it’s a familiar toy. When people go to a museum and see a marble statue they can appreciate the statue but it’s rare they can go home and have a block of marble they can chip away at. People have Lego in their homes so hopefully they can go back and start building. People hit me up all the time and say “we saw the exhibition and the kids came home and immediately started building.”‘
Why did you choose to make special London-influenced pieces in the exhibition?
‘I just thought they were iconic. This is my first trip to London. Having not been here before I didn’t have a good flavour for it. What I’ve found is London has an amazing art scene. It’s very vibrant and inspiring. The pieces I’ve done are just a bit of fun though.’
‘The Art of the Brick’ is running until January 6. Buy tickets here.