Heads up creative types of all ages! The Watershed at the V&A Waterfront is currently the temporary home of an exhibition of sculptures made entirely from LEGO bricks. The internationally acclaimed Nathan Sawaya has taken this iconic children’s toy and used it to create thought-provoking works of art.
In a traditional exhibition set-up, nine rooms display Sawaya’s pieces grouped into themes. Each piece has an official name and a blurb explaining his reasoning and inspiration behind it as well as the number of bricks used. Left to explore the rooms as and how they wish, visitors are asked only not to touch the exhibits. And as soon as I stepped through the black curtains I understood why such emphasis had to be placed on this standard rule. LEGO is designed for touch and play, and the immediate reaction to get involved is almost overpowering.
Although the setup is very traditional, the experience is far from it. The memories of trudging behind my parents as they painstakingly pored over centuries-old paintings were gladly left behind as I indulged in the reinvention of this much-loved children’s toy. There is an interaction with the artworks that comes as a surprise. Some pieces are copies of famous statues such as Michelangelo’s ‘David’, Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’, and even paintings such as Leonardo’s ‘Mona Lisa’ and Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’. Obviously the recognition of a piece adds yet another level of appreciation, but these works show only one aspect of Sawaya’s genius.
Some of his original pieces are intentional comments on his own inspiration, encouraging the viewer to understand a piece of work other than solely as a finished product. An original piece entitled ‘Think’, for example, is a large grey head which is open at the top. Leaning over and peering into it reveals that the head is half-filled with hundreds of coloured LEGO bricks from which, it appears, miniature people have formed themselves and are now in the process of climbing out and creating their own lives.
Snippets of information throughout the exhibition help the audience to understand Sawaya’s history with LEGO, his thought process and his passion for the craft. These come in the form of quotes dotted around the walls, and a short documentary shown on a loop.
Despite a successful career as a lawyer Sawaya instead became an author, speaker and one of the most popular contemporary artists to date. This life-changing career move was made for many reasons, but one in particular stands out. Listening to the man himself in his opening speech, reading the quotes and watching the documentary, it becomes abundantly clear that Sawaya feels passionately that art, no matter what medium, is hugely important. Creation of any kind makes people happy, he believes, whether it’s sketching still-life scenes or finger painting with children. Art is an intrinsic part of our lives: we are constantly creating, and therefore “art is not optional.”
Sawaya matches a fascination for the human form with a remarkable ability to represent very real human emotions. His figures are often in motion or transition, some light-hearted and playful, others quite serious, even creepy. ‘Gray’ depicts a man’s hands and face as he tears through a smooth wall, mouth agape as if calling out or gasping for air, an image symbolic of Sawaya’s decision to break away from being a lawyer and ‘let out’ the artist so long suppressed. In contrast, another piece – a large grey hand holding a tiny red object between its forefinger and thumb – is simply called ‘Untitled’. The explanation next to this piece is short and playful, asking the viewer to decide what it is.
But over and above all this, this exhibition is particularly remarkable for its accessibility. People of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy and appreciate the creations in a relaxed and stimulating environment. An hour is enough time to move through all of the rooms, view the sculptures from numerous angles and enjoy Sawaya’s explanations and personal quotes. Children and adults alike can be heard gasping in delight as they see different figures created out of such a fun and well-known medium. Sawaya has succeeded in producing art that transcends the boundary of age. More than that he has, brick by brick, constructed an inspiration for people to go out and be creative.
The Art of the Brick Exhibition runs at the Watershed, V&A Waterfront until 28 February 2015.