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Interview: LEGO Certified Stores (Bricks World) Storemaster interviews Nathan Sawaya, the artist creating with LEGO bricks

Bricks World Storemaster interviews Nathan Sawaya – the man behind The Art of the Brick. Discover how he started out as a LEGO Artist, why he chose Singapore for his 1st outing in South East Asia & what his favourite LEGO brick is! (December 2012)

Q)What was the first LEGO sculpture you built, how old were you and why did you build it?

A)Of course like so many kids around the world - the first time I built with LEGO® I followed the instructions to the letter and built what was photographed on the front of the box. The first time I mixed all my bricks together with reckless abandon to create something entirely new - I guess you could call that my first "sculpture." It was a dog. You see when I was young I asked my parents for a dog, and they said no, so I went ahead and tried to build one out of LEGO. In the end he was kind of square looking, so I called him a “Boxer”. It was at this point that I realized that I could construct whatever I wanted out of the toy. So if one day I wanted to be a rock-star, I built a guitar. If I wanted to be an astronaut, I built a rocket ship. This was really my first “Aha!” moment. I realized that LEGO bricks were the perfect tools for my imagination and I went on to continue creating from there.

Q)How was LEGO perceived when you were a child and how do you think its image has changed?

A)LEGO was and still is so many things. It's a fun toy, a child development tool, an engineering element and a creative engine for endless imagination. Basically, providing LEGO to children should be a parental requirement! The basic qualities of the brick have not changed in decades. Thank goodness. Nowadays there is a larger variety of LEGO elements available now than when I was a child. However, I still use only the basic rectangular bricks in my art. It reminds me of being a kid.

Q)How do you decide on what to sculpt?

A)For me, inspiration comes from everywhere. I am fortunate enough to travel a lot and experience many different countries and many different cultures. I always make sure I have a sketch pad with me so that I can jot down any ideas as they come. One great example of inspiration is the piece “Sing”, (which can currently be seen at Art Science Museum in Singapore). I was watching a friend of mine perform on stage and she literally became the music that night. She so inspired me that I sketched the design for “Sing” right at that moment using a napkin that I had nearby.

Q)When did you realise you could turn this passion into a career?

A)I practiced law as a corporate attorney in New York City and each night I would need a creative outlet. So, I would come home and build these sculptures and post photos of them to my website – brickartist.com. There came a day when the site crashed from too many hits and I thought “okay, there might be something in this” and that’s when I became a full-time freelance artist.

Q)What kind of impact do you want your LEGO creations to have on your audiences?

A)You may notice that my creations have one word titles, for example “Yellow”, “Wall”, “Peaces”. The reason for this is that I want people to interpret the art using their own minds and emotions. We all see the world differently and everyone will get something different out of each sculpture. What may be a moving emotional piece for an adult could be equally as amusing to a child.

Q)Do you see a difference in how children and adults respond to your creations?

Absolutely, adults and children see different things in each of my creations. A great example of this is Yellow, one of my best known pieces. It depicts a human figure tearing open his chest as thousands of LEGO bricks spill out around him. For adults the sculpture can symbolize anything from transition to opening one’s-self up to the world, but to kids he’s a really cool man with his guts spilling out.

Q)What does LEGO mean to you?

A)LEGO is important to me. It’s the medium which has allowed me to express myself through art and has changed my life. I often say “LEGO can take you anywhere” and I truly believe this is possible.

Q)Art is a very personal thing, how do you know when you have got your piece ‘right’?

A)It depends on the piece, but in most cases, when I begin a sculpture I envision what the final piece will look like before I ever put down that first brick. As I am working the vision may change a bit, but once the sculpture finally looks like what I imagined in mind, I know it is done.

Q)What is the best thing about your job?
A)It is a great privilege to see the joy that my art brings to people. Art is very important to me and I believe it should play an essential part in development and learning, art is a necessary part of life. I believe my sculptures open up the art world to people who may not have otherwise been to an art gallery. I receive many comments and emails through brickartist.com and on twitter @nathansawaya which are amazing to read. There are so many children and adults out there who see my work and are inspired to go home and have a go themselves. This is exactly what I love to hear, in fact, there are so many that I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a LEGO art movement in the years to come.

Q)What made you decide to come to Singapore for the unveiling of the Art of the Brick in Asia?

South East Asia is an area of the world that I have always wanted to visit and I was rapt to have this opportunity. Singapore is a vibrant, progressive city which is home to some amazing architecture. I was particularly excited to be able to visit Art Science Museum at Marina Bay Sands, after I had been commissioned to build a replica of the museum specially for this exhibition.

Q)And finally, the most important question of all, what is your favourite LEGO brick?

A)All of them but if I had to pick a favorite brick, I would have to go with the 1x2 plate. It is so versatile and has come in so handy over the years.