Entertainment | Arts

Nathan Sawaya: Lego My Van Gogh

NPR | March 20, 2014 7:50 a.m.

As a kid, artist Nathan Sawaya made a life-size Boxer out of LEGO bricks when his parents wouldn’t get him a dog. But it took many years before he turned an obsession into a career.

After college, Sawaya didn’t have much faith in his art, so he attended law school and became a corporate lawyer. The creative bug continued to itch, however, as Sawaya would draw, write, and paint after work. One day, he rediscovered his childhood collection of the whimsical bricks and used them to construct massive, intricate sculptures expressing a range of emotions, like fear and joy. He created a website featuring pictures of his LEGO art, and quickly developed a following. On the day his website crashed from too many hits, Sawaya left the corporate world to pursue his art full-time.

Sawaya left the confines of his art studio and joined Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg to chat about how he assembles his larger-than-life creations. Each project begins with drawing a sketch, followed by clicking together and gluing each individual brick together. If he makes a mistake, a hammer and chisel will do the trick. The largest thing he’s ever created, Sawaya said, was “a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton that measures over 20 feet long. I used over 80,000 bricks, because that’s what gets the girls…[building it] took me an entire summer.”

As part of his latest exhibit, “The Art of the Brick,” Sawaya created astounding replicas of famous paintings and statues by artists like Vincent Van Gogh and Marcel Duchamp. So in an Ask Me Another Challenge, we quizzed him on how much he knows about those original masterpieces, like the Starry Night and The Fountain.

Plus, Sawaya bestowed upon the episode’s grand winner a special prize: Hugman, a 15-inch LEGO sculpture that is Sawaya’s version of “street art.”


Interview Highlights

On his massive LEGO collection

I have about four 4 million LEGO bricks. And then a few million in storage in case something comes up. I still pay for them. I buy my bricks just like everyone else. It’s by far my biggest capital expense.

On why he doesn’t alter LEGO bricks

I aim confined to the LEGO palette. I don’t paint the bricks. I stick with what LEGO has made. And the idea behind that is I do want to hopefully inspire kids to go home and create on their own. And if I do, I want them to be able to buy those very same bricks I use. It’s an interesting challenge, but it’s part of being a LEGO artist.

On his street art project

I’m based here in New York City. I see a lot of street art. I wanted to have my own version of street art. What could I do? It’s not real easy to paint with LEGO bricks, so I came up with my own little concept. I call him “Hugman.” A little figure — he’s 15 inches tall, he hugs things like park benches, sign posts. I just leave him around the city. It’s a good hour before he disappears.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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