When LEGO Becomes Art

Nathan Sawaya introduces "Park People" at The Park.

Looking at Nathan Sawaya’s artwork is like stepping into a time machine. From the moment you lay eyes on it, you’re transported back to your living room carpet at age 7, building the tallest skyscraper you can imagine with a mishmash of LEGO bricks. In creating life-size, human LEGO sculptures, Sawaya has found a way to remain youthful, while simultaneously jogging memories of our own childhoods.

The artist’s most notable exhibition of LEGO works, The Art of the Brick, has spanned the globe, and his work has been displayed in cities on every continent except Antarctica. On October 14, Las Vegas will join that rank when Sawaya debuts his latest installation, Park People, at … you guessed it, The Park.

“For me, I like to put art in unexpected places,” says Sawaya, who left his life as a lawyer in 2004 to “play with toys” full-time. “What’s more unexpected than walking along the park [and] seeing a full-size LEGO sculpture?”

Taking photos with Sawaya’s nine Park People is highly encouraged, he says. Everyone does it, even President Obama. Some people even speak to the sculptures.

“The reason I use LEGO bricks is because everyone’s played with them,” he says. “It makes the art accessible.” – Nathan Sawaya

“These figures have become the perfect secret keepers,” Sawaya says. “You can tell them anything and they will never, ever give up your secret. It’s been fascinating to watch.”

Sawaya’s creation process is very much like traditional sculpting. To ensure everything remains intact, he individually glues every LEGO brick he lays, which he says is a serious test of patience. If something goes awry, he’s forced to chisel away at his creation and start fresh. Because of how much he travels, Sawaya says he’s never short of inspiration. Artists such as Antony Gormley and Tom Freeman also influence him greatly.

Sawaya’s main goal, however, is to inspire others. “The reason I use LEGO bricks is because everyone’s played with them,” he says. “It makes the art accessible. Someone can go and see a marble statue, and they will appreciate it, but it’s very doubtful they’ll have marble at home [that] they can chip away at. … It allows them to connect to my artwork on a different level.”

When you visit Park People this week, just remember to thank Sawaya for his sacrifice. There’s no telling how many LEGO pieces he’s stepped on to create these things, and with hundreds of thousands of bricks in his studio, we’re guessing it was plenty. “I don’t even feel it anymore,” he says.

Park People by the Numbers

2-3 

Average weeks it takes to create a life-size human sculpture of LEGO bricks.

15,000 – 25,000

The number of LEGO bricks it takes to create a life-size sculpture.

5,000,000

Estimated number of LEGO bricks Sawaya has in his art studio.

100 

Estimated number of pounds a human sculpture made
of LEGO bricks weighs.

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