DENVER — Nathan Sawaya has a law degree but isn't known for his legal work, instead, he's recognized as a world-renowned contemporary artist for his work with LEGO bricks.
"I used to be a lawyer," he said. "And I found that I wasn't happy, so creating with art was really my outlet."
He said it began in the evenings after work when he would look around his New York City apartment and challenge himself to create the common items he found out of LEGO.
"Could I take an apple and build that out of LEGO? Could I take a baseball and replicate that out of LEGO, which helped me hone my skills to get those curves out of rectangular bricks."
At any given time, he said he has about 10 million LEGO bricks on hand in his studio which are all sorted by size and color.
His works are now part of a temporary exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (DMNS) called The Art of the Brick." The exhibit opens to the public on June 25, just days after the reopening of the museum which had been closed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Sawaya doesn't just create sculptures, he has reimagined some of the world’s most famous masterpieces, such as the Mona Lisa and Vincent van Gogh's Starry Night which are made solely with LEGO bricks. They're part of the 'Past Masters' gallery of the exhibit.
Some of them he created as traditional works of art similar to their original style, but other times he used the LEGO bricks to add dimension.
"Sometimes when I'm working in 2-dimensional paintings, I want to do something completely different," he said. "And that's something like take a 3-dimensional figure and bring it out of the picture."
Of course, there are plenty of sculptures too, including a T. rex skeleton and larger than life crayons. Sawaya said the dinosaur is made out of 80,000 LEGO bricks and he spent an entire summer building it in his New York apartment.
As he works each individual piece is glued into place, and he said if he messes up, he needs to use a hammer and chisel to take it apart and fix it.
"You need patience for this job," he joked.
Sawaya is said to be the first artist to take LEGO bricks into the art world, according to DMNS. His creations were built from standard bricks beginning as early as 2002.
"A lot of people said oh, LEGO art what is that? And maybe they would picture in their minds things they saw in toy stores, castle or train sets," Sawaya said. "I wanted to do something different. I took this medium, LEGO bricks and tried to give it emotion."
PHOTOS: The art of the brick exhibit
He said someone of his works are made from recycled LEGO bricks and you can tell because most of them are made with different colored bricks instead of being all one color.
In 2014, Sawaya founded The Art Revolution Foundation for the purpose of making art a priority in our schools and our homes.
A special ticket is required, however, with the impact of COVID-19, the Museum and Sawaya are offering the exhibit free with general admission through Labor Day.
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