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See the Work of Nathan Sawaya, Lego Sculptor

Nathan Sawaya’s midtown Manhattan office-studio doesn’t resemble a workplace so much as a playroom, surrounded as it is by dozens of hulking boxes each containing millions of Lego blocks. Known to some as the “Lego Man,” Sawaya has made his name as an artist who makes imaginative, compelling, and sometimes disturbing sculptures out of the ubiquitous child’s toy. It began six years ago when he tired of his life as a corporate lawyer and abandoned it to pursue his passion: “I left the contracts on my desk,” he says, “and replaced them with Lego bricks.” Perched on his shelves and standing on his floor are his creations, which can take months to build (and for which his annual tiny-brick budget is in the six figures): a man in torment tearing his face off; an oversize fairy-tale book with a castle rising out of it; a rack of giant crayons; and a life-size Stephen Colbert. Recently he’s been enjoying the success of his first solo gallery exhibit at New York’s Agora gallery, which has been attracting curious parents with their children as well as gallerygoers who want to see something different. Sawaya took Vulture on a tour of his office and gallery show and explained his colorful and often surprisingly moving creations.

“Gray is the starting point of the show. It’s me breaking out. People say, ‘You’re using a child’s toy,’ ‘That’s not art.’ And that’s me breaking out, breaking conceptions. It was also changing my whole life. It was giving up law, the girlfriend, the six-figure salary. It wasn’t just changing the corporate job; it was changing a whole lifestyle. Becoming an artist.”
“I don’t want to give away too much. Maybe he’s sinking. Maybe he’s rising.”
“The thinking here was to try and produce a female form. I like to use loose bricks because I think that makes use of the medium really well. It’s about struggle, too. She’s swimming through these bricks. All these works are about struggle and metamorphosis. My struggle for respect, in a way, because I’m using a child’s toy, and metamorphosis because of the changes I had to make in my life.”
“This is my nightmare, losing my hands. If hands are so important to you, what are you without them? Using a generic human figure, like in many of my works, I can put myself inside him. Feel what they might feel. In a way I am the figures in my creations.”
“Some people say he’s putting himself together; some say he’s pulling himself apart.”
“This was inspired by the story of a parent almost losing a child. As far as I know it’s the only piece where I’ve seen someone start crying, which is the highest compliment for an artist. It was a mother with her kids. What’s happened a little with this medium is people think it’s a child’s toy, so they get surprised when they see emotions. When you go to a Lego exhibit, you’re expecting cars and buses.”
“This is a response to [the previous piece, My Boy.] When I had it in the studio, I had to react to it somehow.”
“Is he putting himself together or pulling himself apart? The reaction to it is strong. Much stronger than I expected. I don’t know if it’s because people are like, ‘Ugh, that’s how I feel in the morning,’ or because they experience it on some deeper level, but for some reason I’ve been asked about this work the most.”
“Pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. I like taking the figure form and turning it into something else.”
“Ideas pouring out. That’s why it’s all loose bricks inside. The guys are the ideas and the loose bricks are the building blocks for them. The key is symbolic, I think. He’s going to unlock something but I don’t know what.”
“Legos. They’re bright, colorful, and fun, right? Lets take that and put it in another context. Legos are a child’s toy, but I made this early on to demonstrate to people that it’s an art medium, too.”
“The mask is a different color from his body. We put on masks. When people are in different scenarios they act differently. This is an exploration of that.”
“Look at it from an angle. Look at the nose. I had my girlfriend take 30 photos of me from all angles. It’s a self-portrait. You go though the whole show and then there’s this culmination of an actual face. You’ve been through a tour of all my emotions and then this is me. You know me now.”
See the Work of Nathan Sawaya, Lego Sculptor