INTERVIEW: LEGO artist Nathan Sawaya pens introduction for new ‘Greatest Brick Builds’ book

Nathan Sawaya is the first contemporary artist to take LEGO into the art world as a medium. Photo courtesy of Thunder Bay Press.

With the holiday season and Black Friday looming, companies are starting to advertise their special gifts for consumers both young and old. One of the most exciting titles of the year comes from Thunder Bay Press, and it involves that beloved pastime shared by so many people: building cool structures with LEGO bricks.

The Greatest Brick Builds: Amazing Creations in LEGO, now available for purchase, is a 112-page tome dedicated to the artistry and awesomeness of LEGO design. The photos and stories within these pages are akin to receiving blueprints for a skyscraper or suspension bridge, only on a smaller scale. Readers will have the chance to check out a LEGO-ified Golden Gate Bridge, USS Missouri and the Great Sphinx of Giza, Egypt.

Thunder Bay Press has brought in the big guns for the book as well. Nathan Sawaya, arguably the most famous LEGO artist of all time, has penned the introduction. For the uninitiated, here’s more information on Sawaya, from his official biography: He is “the first contemporary artist to take LEGO into the art world as a medium. His unique sculptures and the renowned touring international exhibition, The Art of the Brick, continue to inspire creativity as well as break attendance records globally. He is also the recipient of many awards and honors. In 2014, Nathan founded the Art Revolution Foundation, for the purpose of making art a priority in schools and homes. He as been a speaker at Google Zeitgeist, TEDx, Yahoo! and the Clinton Library. Nathan lives and works in New York City and Los Angeles.”

Recently, Hollywood Soapbox exchanged emails with Sawaya about all things LEGO. Questions and answers have been slightly edited for style.

When did you pick up your first LEGO?

I got my first LEGO set on Christmas morning when I was 5 years old. I immediately was fascinated with the bricks and forwent the rest of Christmas morning in order to focus on building a little house.

When did you start to see LEGOs as a medium for your art?

When I was 10 years old, I asked for a dog, but when my parents wouldn’t get a dog, I built a life-size dog out of LEGO bricks. That might have been the first a-ha moment when I realized that I didn’t have to build what was on the front of the box. There were no limits, and I didn’t have to follow the instructions.

After I graduated from college, I didn’t have faith that art could be a full-time career, so I became an attorney. I found myself doing mergers and acquisitions for a law firm in New York City. It was not the most creative job, and it didn’t use very much imagination. After a long day at the office, many lawyers would go to the gym; others would go get a drink. But to blow of steam, I needed a creative outlet. Sometimes I painted, sometimes I drew, and sometimes I sculpted. I sculpted out of various media, and then one day I challenged myself to create sculpture out of this toy from my childhood, LEGO bricks.

I kept building after work and on the weekends. Building sculptures was my way of relaxing. Eventually my apartment was packed wall-to-wall with art. I put together a collection of sculptures on a website as a virtual gallery. Eventually I was getting commissioned to create works of art, and the day my website crashed from too many hits, I decided to make a change. I left my day job behind to become a full-time working artist.

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.

The Greatest Brick Builds: Amazing Creations in LEGO is now available for purchase from Thunder Bay Press and retail stores. Image courtesy of Thunder Bay Press.

What can readers expect from The Great Brick Builds: Amazing Creations in LEGO?

It was an honor to write the introduction for this book, and I focused on why it’s important to use your imagination with the bricks and not necessarily follow the instructions. The rest of the book is a selection of works that the editors deemed the greatest LEGO buildings in the world. They are some amazing creations using just LEGO bricks as a medium. There is something amazing about LEGO bricks when used to sculpt large forms because up close the viewer is looking at tiny rectangles full of sharp corners and right angles. But then, when the viewer steps back, all those corners blend together, and the sculpture’s shape comes into view. The right angles become curves, and instead of distinct lines, the viewer sees a human figure. As in life, it is all about perspective. That is why I like sculpting with LEGO.

Your creations are beyond impressive. Are you equally amazed by what others can do with the bricks?

Absolutely, I am amazed and inspired by what others do with the bricks. My role as an artist is to inspire, but I also find inspiration in other great works of art.

Throughout my own personal journey, I have learned that art is not optional. It’s not a nice to have, it’s a must have. When I was an attorney, I wasn’t happy, but creating art made me happy. And I eventually changed my career to focus on making art. I’m not the only one who is positively impacted by exercising creativity.

It has been proven time and time again that students do better in schools when they are exposed to art. Students have higher test scores and graduation rates when art is part of the curriculum. And, creating art is often used in many types of therapy and recovery. Creating art makes you happier. Creating art makes you smarter. Creating art makes you healthier. Clearly, creating art makes you a better person. I want to inspire people to make art, so that they make a better world. And as you can see with these other amazing creations, they are also inspiring people.

Why do you think LEGOs continue to engage children and adults alike?

LEGO bricks are universal. They require no language. In fact, they are a language in itself. I think that this unique characteristic allows for everyone to be able to enjoy the experience with LEGO bricks. I have exhibited my art exhibition around the world, and wherever we take The Art of the Brick, everyone responds to the art because it is made with from a medium with which they are familiar and likely have at home.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

The Greatest Brick Builds: Amazing Creations in LEGO, featuring an introduction by Nathan Sawaya, is now available from Thunder Bay Press. Click here for more information.

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications.

E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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