Nathan Sawaya Talks to Us About His Latest Exhibit in Taiwan
LEGO artist Nathan Sawaya’s Art of the Brick exhibit has been all around the United States, with select pieces popping up at museums and galleries all across the country. Last July, the Art of the Brick made the jump across the Pacific, making its Asian debut in Taipei, Taiwan. The reaction was strong and enthusiastic enough to keep Sawaya’s bevy of LEGO sculptures and portraits on the island, heading all the way south to Kaohsiung. The Kaohsiung exhibit, currently at the Pier-2 Art Center, is nearing the end of its three-and-a-half month run, and features some brand new works inspired by some of the sights of Taiwan.
First appearing at Art of the Brick’s Taipei exhibit, a LEGO model of Taipei 101, currently the world’s third-tallest skyscraper, kicked off the Kaohsiung exhibit alongside The Laborer and The Fisher Woman, based on two local statues also in the Pier-2 Art Center. The heat of a summer in Taipei inspired The Sun, a smaller, wall-hung sculpture. Want Want, a popular brand of crackers, saw their mascot get the LEGO treatment, too. The exhibit wrapped up with arguably one of Sawaya’s most accurate celebrity sculptures to date – Kaohsiung’s mayor, Chen Chu.
Most of Sawaya’s old favorites were on display, like Yellow, one of the most instantly recognizable of his works. A few excellent portraits of Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix boast some seriously impressive accuracy (and shading!), and there’s no missing that massive, 20′ long tyrannosaurus rex.
In a Skype interview, Sawaya gave me a little more information about that imposing, natural history museum-level LEGO dinosaur, which took him an entire summer worth of ten to twelve-hour days in his studio to complete. When asked where he started with the T-Rex, Sawaya told me,
I started with the skull. The skull was done months before I even attempted the skeleton part, and the thinking there was, OK, let’s see how this skull looks. Is this even going to be viable? Once I had the skull done, and I thought ‘OK, this could work, then I’ll move on’…and then, if the whole project fell apart, at least I had a cool skull, right?
He also talked about how tedious the ribs were to build, but described the process as “therapeutic,” while pointing out that building tedious dinosaur ribs with LEGO bricks is more relaxing than the tedious paperwork he had to do as a lawyer prior to becoming a LEGO artist. I’ve never done either, but I’ll take his word for it.
Sawaya also suggested that we’ll probably ”see an influence in some of the pieces that come out in the next few years” as a result of his travels and the Art of the Brick’s first stop in Asia. He also mentioned that he has a lot of sketches from both Taipei and Kaohsiung – but nothing he can show off just yet.
We also talked about LEGO Cuusoo. Cuusoo is a website that’s been around since 2008, and accepts LEGO set ideas from the general public. It’s a little bit like a Kickstarter for new LEGO sets, just without the money. If a submission reaches 10,000 supporters, it’s designated for review by the LEGO Cuusoo team, which will decide whether or not the idea is viable. If the team gives an idea the green light, the person who submitted the idea will get royalties – 1% of all total net sales of the set. The Minecraft LEGO sets and the upcoming Back to the Future LEGO sets were both born on Cuusoo.
Over the years, enough people have contacted Sawaya about how to build Yellow to convince him to submit a smaller version of his sculpture on the site. If you’re interested in building your very own Yellow, you can head over to the sculpture’s Cuusoo page and back it. If Yellow ends up as a LEGO set for sale someday, Sawaya mentioned that he would consider other sculptures for Cuusoo – notably Hugman.
In both Taipei and Kaohsiung, there’s been a lot of enthusiasm for the Art of the Brick since it’s come to Taiwan – the exhibit was originally only going to go to Taipei, but thanks to demand, it’s sticking around for a while. After the exhibit leaves Kaohsiung next week, it’ll move back up north to the middle of Taiwan. The Art of the Brick will be in Taichung, Taiwan from the beginning of March to the beginning of June.
Photos courtesy of Hsun Ying Tsai