By Hannah Phillips
A bored lawyer quit his day job and became a full-time LEGO artist – after his sculptures became an online sensation.
Nathan Sawaya walked out of his high paid role as a corporate lawyer 10 years ago to follow his passion for creating life-sized sculptures from his favourite childhood toy.
The 46-year-old has made everything from arcade games to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and his favourite piece – an 80,000 brick T-Rex which took him a painstaking 12 hours a day for three months to perfect.
The stepdad-of-two now stocks a staggering 10 million Lego bricks in his LA office, which he has meticulously organised into shape and colour.
Nathan said: “I was under pressure from parents and from society so I went to law school, but I’ve always had artistic inclinations.
“I would come home at night and need some sort of creative outlet.
“I would paint, draw and sculpt and I then I thought about doing something with this toy from my childhood.
“I love Lego because I appreciate the cleanliness of the medium, the right angles and the distinct lines.
“It makes art accessible. Everyone has played with it or thrown some bricks together. People are familiar with it as a toy.
“People connect to it very easily. They have a connection that’s different from a model statue, people can appreciate a model statue but they don’t have model at home that they can chip away at. It opens a whole art world for people.
“When I was a kid, Lego meant I could be whatever I wanted.
“When I was ten and my parents said I couldn’t have a dog, I went and made myself a dog.
“If I wanted to be a rock star, I’d make myself a guitar and if I wanted to be an astronaut, I’d build a rocket.
“It’s about exploring my imagination.”
Nathan is taking his Lego creations on a tour of the world, from Melbourne and New York to Barcelona. His exhibition, The Art of the Brick, is made up of more than one million Lego bricks and will be hitting Manchester this week.
Nathan began his Lego-mad hobby by creating smaller sculptures in his spare time but friends were so mesmerised by his designs that he decided to get more creative.
He put a website together to showcase his work and when the site became so popular that it crashed, he decided to leave his old job behind and become a full time Lego artist.
Nathan says that it took the art world some time to get on board with his creations but he’s encouraged other artists to explore Lego.
He said: “People say its for children. When I tell people what I do, people assume I make what you see in a toy store like trains and castles.
“There’re more emotion, I create human forms.”
Married Nathan added: “The sculptures are my children, I put heart and soul into each one.
“A life-sized sculpture can take between 15 to 20,000 bricks and it’s a long process.
“I get a great idea and I love it and I start it, then I question whether it is a good idea.
“But it’s always worth it in the end when I get to see people’s reactions.
“As so often in life, it is a matter of perspective.
“Up close, the shape of the brick is distinctive but from a distance, those right angles and distinct lines change to curves.”
Nathan believes he’s the first artist to use Lego as an art medium and is taking an exhibition of his favourite pieces around the world.
He said: “The reaction when people see my designs is similar.
“People are very engaged, and they’re familiar with the toy.
“It brings a lot of emotion and people connect with it because it’s from their childhood.”
Nathan’s exhibition, The Art of the Brick, will land in Manchester on November 22 at The Great Northern Warehouse and will feature almost 100 3D sculptures and oversized portraits built from Lego bricks, including recreations of iconic art, such as the Mona Lisa.
For more information: go to https://aotbmanchester.co.uk/