Nathan Sawaya: The Art of the Brick Museum Tour

Nathan Sawaya: The Art of the Brick Museum Tour
Archive: 2011

Had I been exposed to the Lego creations of Nathan Sawaya as a boy I may have had inspiration to a higher artistic calling than to create Lego towns which my friends and I subsequently destroyed in our playing of war games in my parents’ basement. I know that there will be payback in any mythical afterlife for populating said towns with ants from the back yard.

Walking from piece to piece in his current exhibit, I couldn’t help but smile – even at some of the more angst ridden works – with a sense of childhood familiarity of the shiny primary colored blocks. Working with approximately 1.5 million blocks from his New York studio and without a model, Sawaya somehow captures intangibles such as raw human emotion with a medium that is if anything unyielding.

The first sculpture that struck me was an almost life size standing female nude titled ‘Loves Me Not’. Anatomically correct, it is hard to believe he doesn’t work with a model or any reference other than his imagination. Like any sculpture, a photograph doesn’t do it justice as one has to walk around the piece to appreciate the beauty of form. Sawaya has the ability to achieve curves, movement and almost a visual softness by the obsessive layering of plastic squares and rectangles. Another interesting effect is a slight shimmering as the light refracts off the thousands of polished surfaces.

The artist refers to the Lego’s as “bricks”, from a distance they can also resemble pixels as form is broken down to basic bits of information. He says this is an introspective body of work, and maybe all the bricks can be an allusion to a gathering of multitudes of complex emotive states and life experiences as an individual ages.

In a smaller yet equally strong work ‘Everlasting’ we find an older couple complete with a lifetime’s worth of emotional and physical baggage and still going through life together, the man affectionately leading his wife by her hand. It’s good to see depictions of the body in decline as an acceptance of the frailty of our nature. The man here has jowls and a voluminous gut and his companion still retains her sex appeal even with the extra layers of fat. Wow, I’m fawning over Legos!

‘Ascension’ feels either triumphant or painful depending on one’s perspective. While I know the artist’s intent, the pole going through the body and the bend of his back initially provoked a feeling of physical or inner turmoil. Although I suppose to transcend one’s lot does involve a great deal of pain.

As Sawaya explains it, he is concerned with “the myth of stability, the persistence of transition, and the ever present metamorphoses we as humans undergo in every moment.” All the bit parts or pixels of experience in our lives come to bear on each new experience and how we choose to respond to it. Of course how we respond will affect others and the chain reaction continues.

Other works from his past exhibits such as ‘My Boy’ are extraordinary not only in emotion but also execution. Again it’s there in the curve, the bend of the back and thereby the chest which takes his medium to the extreme. The feel here is similar to the ‘Pieta’, inserting a father’s grief for a mother’s, but without the religious inference, it can be applicable symbolically to any contemporary situation.

In a final piece I share here, the male figure in ‘Brick By Brick’s rending open his chest and revealing his heart, either in an ode to love or the artist pouring himself out and giving totally to his life’s work. I choose to focus on the latter which is integral to an artist’s life, and all the spilled bit parts which compose it.

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