There are only a handful of themes which truly stand the test of time. The kind of things shared between generations; dancing across language barriers; appreciated by any child, anywhere, anytime. Lego is definitely one. DC characters are absolutely there. Art is certainly there.
And then whoa! You have someone like Nathan Sawaya combining all three?!? Welcome to the Art of the Brick: DC Comics. Prepare to be joyfully stunned.
Also below is our giveaway but one big caveat: it’s for Australia residents only.
I could not be more pleased to be bringing the name Nathan Sawaya back to your attention. Nathan is a brick builder. In fact, he’s a Master Brick Artist. You might have seen some of his work. If you have a few free hours today, I dare you to do a Google search of ‘Nathan Sawaya, sculptures’.
Our house is full of Nathan Sawaya fans. My three sons have been collecting and building with Lego bricks for almost 20 years. My youngest son has so many bricks to choose from that some of them are stored in huge tubs in our basement. So when we had a chance to meet Nathan Sawaya at one of his exhibits in NYC a few years ago, we jumped at the opportunity.
Nathan loves building with Lego bricks, but more than that, Nathan believes in art. He believes that art makes you happier, healthier, and gives perspective to your life. And he wants to help get more art in our public schools.
He’s teamed up with a brand called Art of Craft to release a brand new line of shirts that feature his work, with 10% of the proceeds going to a project called Art Revolution. This group’s goal is to get more art supplies in the hands of our children and more art programs in our schools.
It might be difficult to pick just one shirt. Many of them have the awesome declaration “Art is Not Optional’ and many have graphics of some of Nathan’s most popular sculptures. Here are some samples:
Nathan started his adult life working as a lawyer. It paid well but was not as fulfilling as the time he spent on the floor, building with his Lego bricks. So one day Nathan made a radical choice, and he chose joy. Building with bricks and making art with bricks gave him joy, so he found a way to do it full time. Now he wants to give that gift to kids.
In case you’d like to purchase something a bit more radical than a creative shirt with Nathan’s art on it, there are also ‘hugman sculptures’ available for sale. Have you not seen Nathan’s hugman campaign?
In order to spread a little joy to the world, Nathan started leaving hugman sculptures around in public places. They are little Lego guys who essentially hug things like fence posts, street sign poles, chair legs, or anything that their little arms can reach around. Now you can own your own 16″ hugman, built and signed by Nathan Sawaya himself. It’s a limited edition of 12, so jump on this quickly if you know someone who would love a hugman in his office, or would maybe like to treat yourself to a conversation starting gift. As if you need any more reason to buy your own hugman, a whopping 50% of the sale of these sculptures will go to Art Revolution.
If you’d like to catch some of Nathan’s work in person, check out his show schedule here. If you want to find out more about how to help with his Art Revolution charity, start with this link.
Ever since he was a child, Nathan Sawaya has loved to create with Lego bricks. However, as an adult, he abandoned his favorite past time in order to attend law school. Subsequently, he successfully (though not happily) practiced as an attorney. After realizing his heart was truly only at home building with his Lego bricks, Sawaya left the boardroom and turned his love of building into an actual career. Today, Sawaya‘s The Art of the Brick exhibit at Discovery Times Square in New York City winds up exploring the nubbed, outer limits of Lego brick art, re-imagining everything from cultural mainstays like the Sistine Chapel and the Thinker to the darker emotional spaces we all share.
I have to admit: When I visited this exhibit recently, I was expecting a short two-room experience…not seven rooms filled with everything from re-creations of Renaissance paintings to a dinosaur that took up an entire room (and most of Sawaya’s summer). The only thing that could have made my Art of the Brick experience better was if my Lego-loving 7-year-old-son could have been there with me. Since he couldn’t make it, I people-watched other children and enjoyed their expressions as they journeyed through the rooms.
There are a few rules about the exhibit you need to be aware of before going.
First rule: There are no backpacks allowed. This frustrated me because I use my backpack as a purse. Thankfully, Discovery Times Square ultimately allowed me to keep my backpack in my possession, instead of checking it at the desk.
Second rule: Flash photography is not permitted in the exhibit (disclaimer…unless you possess a media pass). Personally, I think they’re doing you a favor—the flash photos I took didn’t come out so great.
Last rule: You are not permitted to touch the sculptures.
So, as long as you keep your hands and your flash to yourself, the exhibit guards will leave you alone.
Each of the seven rooms has something different to spark interest.
One of my favorite rooms in the exhibit was “Through the Darkness.” This installation is also where it got a little spooky for the younger kids—though most seemed to handle it just fine. The lights are dimmed in this area in order to highlight feelings of fear, and conflict, as well as a search for happiness. I found the digital plaques on the wall in this room thought-provoking—definitely worth your time.
Having suffered from anxiety for as long as I can remember, I found the “Trapped” installation here particularly affecting—there have definitely been times in my life where I’ve felt trapped by anxiety. Sawaya ruminates, “There is always a way out, sometimes we just need help to find the way.” Maybe one day I’ll find my way out, until then, I have this Lego brick art to remind me that I’m not alone.
I also loved the bright colors and interesting quotes that I found in the “Metamorphosis” room. This is where visitors will encounter one of Sawaya’s most famous works (also a possible up-and-coming Lego set), “Yellow.”The information sheets next to each piece of art here often included a quote offering insight into the inspiration for the piece. Some of the quotes really got me thinking, especially this one that went along with the piece “Untitled,”
When children want to be invisible, they simply hold their hands over their eyes, making it so they can’t see the world. Then they reason that the world can’t see them either. Sometimes we keep using this trick, even when we grow up.
I felt as if Sawaya was speaking directly to me at this point because that is what I do when I’m having a panic attack…I close my eyes. One of the reasons why I enjoy wearing my Clone Trooper costume actually is because it covers my eyes from the world. Once, when I passed out at Star Wars Weekends, I started to panic. I remember all the voices around me and the feel of their hands pulling me out of my costume, but don’t remember what any of them looked like because I kept my eyes closed, hoping that it would all just go away and that I would be okay.
Another quote that really hit hard with me coincided with the piece “Inside,”
When we’re born, we’re all given a shell to live in. And one of the joys of living is being able to fill it any way we like.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized I have the freedom to fill my shell anyway I like, and through writing and costuming, I’ve done just that. I’m looking forward to seeing how my 7-year-old son “fills his shell” as he gets older.
But there were still more rooms to explore…
Something else I found interesting about Sawaya’s art was how he made use of classic paintings and art and reconstructed them in Lego bricks. The first room in the exhibit actually features art from the Renaissance period, with Lego versions of the Mona Lisa as well as a segment of the Sistine Chapel (protip: look up, or you’ll miss this one). This is one of the rooms children might want to rush through, but I would recommend taking the time to show them each piece of art and the neighboring image of its real-world counter part.
The next room was filled with just as much history as the first, with art from ancient Greece, Africa, and Egypt. The largest sculpture in this room, though, and the one that got the most attention from both adults and children, was a head sculpture from Easter Island, also known as the Moai. This piece took over 75,400 pieces to assemble and the 1:1 scale was impressive. At one point while gazing up at the many tiny bricks used to create curves and smooth lines, it occurred to me: There’s a lot of history to be learned in both these rooms and I can’t think of a more engaging way to expose kids to it than with Lego bricks.
At the time I visited the exhibit, a final room included fan art chosen to be displayed as part of a contest. My favorite piece in this room was the Transformers Memorial Park, created by 35-year-old Craig M.
The last sculpture in the exhibit is actually a hands-on-experience: You’re given the chance to write your name on a Lego brick and place it on a giant sculpture. When the exhibit closes in January 2014, Nathan is going to take all the Lego bricks and refurbish them for a new project and any of the Lego bricks he doesn’t use will be donated to charity.
To get the most out of your Art of the Brick experience, take my advice and don’t rush! My mom and I completed the our exhibit visit in roughly an hour, and looking back, I wish I had walked a little more slowly and paid closer attention to the information about each piece. The information sheets next to each installation reveal more than just the names of the works, they are opportunities to dive deeply into each piece.
Before we left, I asked a few of the children what they thought about what they saw. A 7-year-old boy told me his favorite piece was the Peace sign because it had pink Lego bricks in it (score!). Another boy chimed in to say that he really enjoyed “Yellow” (see first image), but it took him a few minutes to give me that answer because he enjoyed everything about the exhibit.
When I got home from the exhibit I realized two things. One, it’s possible to do soul searching in rooms full of Lego bricks. Two, Lego bricks really do have infinite possibilities when it comes to what you can create with them. When I got home from my trip I saw my son’s Lego bricks in a different light and after I showed my son some of the pictures from my trip to the exhibit, I think he saw them differently too.
If you’re a Lego-loving family, this Times Square Discovery Art of the Brick exhibit is a must-see! You have until January 14th, 2014 to visit The Art of the Brick before Nathan moves on to his next adventure. So if you’re in the area, make sure to stop by! For more information, including admission fees and operating hours, visit Discovery Times Square’s website.
Disclaimer: GeekMom was provided with free admission for the use of this post.
Legos are internationally cherished small plastic interlocking building blocks and minifigures that can be taken apart and used to build other objects. Over the years, Lego has expanded its creations to include products like gears and pulleys and even electronic parts for constructing programmable robots. As a result, there are popular Lego robotics leagues and Lego education products focusing squarely on programming, solar, and even wind energy exploration. So, we see the science, technology, engineering, and Math (S.T.E.M.) connection, but what do Legos have to do with other stuff like reading, writing, or art?
Learning by Doing
First, kids love to learn by doing. Period. In fact, noted computer scientist and constructivist from the MIT Media Lab, Seymour Papert, believes so strongly in learning by doing that in 1998 he worked with Lego to create Lego Mindstorms, a programmable brick that can be used to make robots. The name for the product came from Papert’s book, Mindstorms, published in 1980. Lego even funded some of his research! Let’s take these little S.T.E.M. jewels and extend their reach into non-traditional starring roles in the arts and humanities.
There’s nothing like necessity for prompting a child to read. Lego kits come with detailed instruction manuals that a child must read and follow in order to complete the model. Therefore, young Lego builders are developing their reading comprehension every time they follow the instructions for a new model.
More interesting, though is tying a piece of literature to a building project. Imagine building scenes from Alice in Wonderland out of Legos. Alternatively, build and then reenact your favorite scenes from Treasure Island in Lego. Check out literacy expert Susan Stephenson’s great suggestions on this topic.
Susan also provides ideas for using Mini-mizer, a free online digital Lego minifigure creation tool. Mini-mizer is a cool tool for creating a wide array of digital minifigures that can be saved by taking screen captures. It would be fun to use these neat screen captures in original comic strips, stories, etc.
Lego-themed stop-motion videos are extremely popular. A quick search on YouTube yields thousands of kid-created Lego stop-motion animation videos riffing on popular movies like Star Wars and Harry Potter.
Creating a stop-motion animation video isn’t kid’s play, though. Stop-motion animation takes serious time and skill. Creating even a rudimentary Lego stop-motion animation video requires developing at least basic photo, video, and sound editing techniques. More elaborate videos often involve developing a story board, writing a script, creating an original music score, adding special effects, learning about copyright rules, and even marketing a video to friends and fellow fans. In spite of the time and effort required to learn, young Lego fans painstakingly learn these skills on their own without prompting. In addition, young Lego engineers who explore stop-motion animation end up developing writing and story-telling skills as they explore new ways to express themselves through Lego.
Creative kids are in good company, too. Pixar animator, Angus Maclane, builds with Lego bricks to help him unwind after animating all day. He also builds Lego models of animated characters to help him visualize his digital creations in 3-d.
Nathan Sawaya, a New York-based artist who has taken Lego bricks beyond child’s play with his traveling art exhibition, is an inspiration to all aspiring Lego artists. As a child, Sawaya drew cartoons, wrote stories, perfected magic tricks, and played with LEGO. Nathan’s Lego sculptures are stunningly realistic fine art that adults and children can enjoy together. Check out Nathan’s museum tour schedule to find an art museum near you that might be hosting an exhibition of Nathan’s work.
So, those sweet little bricks are really kids’ prototyping laboratory wares. Fertile imaginations unleashed beyond STEM flow freely wherever the creative spirit dictates. Oh! Don’t worry. Leaving the S.T.E.M. path actually leads back to it, sometimes profoundly. Check out Jim Bumgardner’s 2007 GeekDad article explaining how he erased his classroom math failures through creative discovery — outside the classroom.
Now go build some cool Lego creations with the kids!
When you’re in the middle of raising three Lego crazy boys, and your house has more Lego bricks than dust bunnies, your frame of reference, when it comes to personal heroes, tends to be a bit twisted. You’d better believe that anyone who is known as a “Master Brick Artist” is on the top of our list of rock stars.
Which would explain why I was practically giddy when I discovered that not only would hubby and I, and two of our boys, be attending the latest Nathan Sawaya exhibit at the amazing Agora Gallery in New York City, but that the artist himself would be there to answer any questions we might have.
If you’re not familiar with this rock star’s name, let me give you a quick tutorial. Nathan Sawaya loved building with Lego bricks when he was a kid. But being a responsible young man, he packed away his bricks and headed off to college when the time came to be a grown up. That’s not to say he didn’t bring his chest full of Legos with him when he arrived in the dorm (he did). His love for building with tiny bricks continued on past college, as he entered law school. The little bit of square footage he was assigned as a desk to study law books more often held Lego creations. It was a great way to clear his mind.
Fast forward a few years and you’ll find Mr. Sawaya practicing corporate law in New York City. Oh, and still building with little bricks in his free time. He entered and won a contest the Lego company sponsored, as they attempted to locate their next master builder. His passion continued to grow as his national fame followed suit.
Appearances on the national level, including Newsweek and the Today show, attracted enough attention that commissioned work began to be enough to drop the day job altogether. Soon Mr. Sawaya was doing what millions of kids worldwide dream of doing, building with Lego bricks for a living.
He’s now had his work appear in art galleries and museums around the world, done commissioned work for hundreds of corporate jobs and individuals, and set up a pretty cool life in his New York City studio.
Last weekend, after wandering through some of his most amazing work (with a theme of “Red”), my brain began to overflow with questions I’d love to ask this man who is an artist first, ‘brick expert’ second. His sculptures draw you in and dredge up your curiosity. How could it be that this figure looks like a bunch of squares when I’m standing right next to it, but when I step away I see the form of two people caught in an embrace? How can he keep the scale in proportion, as he builds different body types and parts? How in the world did he capture the stance of a middle aged woman so perfectly, in all her roundness, using only square pieces? And of course, just how many bricks are in that thing? Is it hollow or solid?
When he walked in the door, I knew him instantly. He looks exactly like the many press pictures you’ll find on his website, yet younger and even more relaxed than that. As my son said, “he seems like a guy who you’d pass in the subway and never realize he’s such a big deal!”
He’s friendly, warm, and instantly makes you feel like you’re in the company of a friend. A friend who happens to do amazing things with small square bricks. We stood in the shadow of his giant red man (entitled Pushing Against) and as my questions poured out, he answered every one with professionalism and wit. Here are a few of the things I learned about him, and his work.
Let’s start with an obvious one – yes, the sculptures are hollow, for many reasons. Cost is one. No, he doesn’t get free bricks from the Lego company. He buys them all, to the tune of over six figures a year, which led me to wonder about if his Fed Ex guy loves him or hates him.
Another reason the pieces are not solid is just as basic. They’d be way too heavy to move around. Each piece is self supporting and easily movable. It really helps when a customer (yes, most pieces are for sale) can actually carry home his newest purchase and move it around his house without the help of a crane.
Mr. Sawaya has a constant inventory of over 1.5 million bricks in his studio. He creates his art mainly using only thirteen colors, in two dozen standard shapes and sizes, staying pretty close to the classic square shapes. The way he can take those squares and create lines that circle and move in his art is what I find the most captivating.
This piece, entitled Ascension, feels so fluid as you stand next to it, you can almost see it gliding skyward. An amazing feat, using only four sided bricks.
He tends to steer clear of the hundreds of specialty shapes, only occasionally branching out and including one for a very specific need. One of the few women sculptures he’s done was in this show, holding in her hand a red rose, created with a handful of uniquely shaped pieces.
That’s not to say he doesn’t own some sets that bear the Lego name. One question I just had to ask was whether friends and family still bought him Lego sets for birthday and holiday gifts. With a big grin he said, “Yeah….I guess they feel like it’s safe!” Last year he received the Star Wars Death Star kit and immediately made time to sit down and put it together. There’s art, and then there’s Legos.
All of his pieces are fastened together, each brick receiving a bit of glue before it’s placed on the creation. But it’s not always been that way. In the early days Mr. Sawaya built the whole sculpture first, then used it as a model to build an exact copy, gluing as he went.
But now, years later, the confidence flows more freely. Once you’ve done a few dozen ‘human thighs’, they come much easier the next time around. So he clicks along, placing piece after piece, and gluing as he goes. He will admit that the process is not fool proof and because the glue sets in just over five seconds, he’s become very skilled with the art of using a hand chisel to chip away any occasional mistakes.
Although he’s known officially as a ‘brick artist’, the name Lego is always hovering on the sidelines. It’s no secret he uses Lego brand bricks. And the Lego people are good with that. He’s worked for them, at their own studios, just after he won their master builder contest. He’s created pieces that are on display at Legoland. In the early days of his independent building, separate from their company, the execs kept a close eye on him. They visited his studio, and he paid them a visit at their headquarters in Denmark. Now, years later, they’ve developed what Mr. Sawaya calls a ‘sweet relationship’, each recognizing their place. Mr. Sawaya is an artist, an artist who happens to use a product attached to the name Lego. He’s comfortable with that, and the Lego company is too. It’s all a former attorney could ask for, I suppose.
This post would not be complete without a shout out to the impressive gallery that has now hosted two Nathan Sawaya exhibits in the course of this past year, the Agora Gallery in the Chelsea district of New York City. If you are ever in the Big Apple, be sure to visit this place, and bring your kids along. Their goal is to promote artists from around the world and make their art accessible to everyone. There is no entrance fee and many of their shows (not just the Lego themed ones) would be interesting to children. It’s the perfect place to introduce young people to the world of art galleries.
And if you happen to be in New York City this weekend, be sure you head down to the lower west side and catch a glimpse of this amazing exhibit by a marvelous artist who works in the medium of tiny bricks (the exhibit closes on December 14th). You won’t be disappointed.