By Nick Eskey
“Lego” is the toy that let’s allows kids and adult to build from premade manuals, or to create out of their imaginations. Complete miniature sized cities, even worlds, can be made. But what about a something larger than life?
Nathan Sawaya is the artist behind the nationwide touring exhibit “The Art of the Brick.” Instead of tabletop pieces, Nathan has created life sized sculptures that defy everything people think of when they hear “Lego.” One of his best pieces is a scale sized T-Rex skeleton. His exhibition has been touring city after city. Soon we’ll be treated to his newest work, a collaborative effort with Jim Lee and DC Comics.
Yesterday at San Diego Comic-Con, Nathan Sawaya and Jim Lee were present to talk about the upcoming exhibit and more. Nathan first explained how he always had a love for Legos as a kid. When his parents refused to get him a dog, he took his sets apart and made one instead. Later in life, he kept his love of the toy alive as a hobby, building after work on his free time. Eventually his few statues turned into over a hundred, and later a touring exhibit.
Jim Lee and DC Comics came into the picture when Nathan wanted to build a particular piece for the exhibit: the Batmobile. However Nathan wasn’t comfortable with designing it. He asked Jim for help, and after the comic artist checked out the sculptures and spoke of bigger things with the Lego artist, they approached DC with an idea. And so, the “DC Comics Meets Lego Arts” exhibit began.
Nathan and his team spent the last year putting together this exhibit, using much of DC’s well loved franchises. He said only one thing is still needed to finish it up. Yup, the very Batmobile it started with. This is where Jim Lee took to the sheets of paper taped to the wall. “We’re going to design it here today with your guy’s help.”
The first thing he asked of the crowd was what shoe we wanted to use. “One of my tips is that cars all start as shoes.” Jim showed the room by taking suggestions such as slippers to high-heels, and then transforming them into Batmobiles. The panel’s moderator gave the suggestion of a “Dr. Martin” boot, and Jim “kicked” into gear. As Jim Lee sketched, Nathan quipped “I hope he doesn’t decide to change the color to something like chartreuse, cause I bought maybe a million black Lego bricks.”
As one would imagine, the process of building one of these sculptures isn’t always easy. “I have to glue the bricks together. If I make a mistake or if things don’t look right, I have to chisel it apart. And I hate capes by the way.” One of the hardest pieces he had to make for the project he said was the “Superman #1” cover when DC was Detective Comics. The background was in 2D, with Superman and the car he’s holding in 3D. “And of course that cover has a cape,” he said.
One of the greatest things though about the project said Nathan and his team was the ability to bring such icons to life in such a new way. “Warner Brothers and DC gave us such leeway so that we can show these characters and give them new life.”
What does it take to be a Lego artist? An engineering degree perhaps? Sometimes it just takes imagination and hard work. “I started life as an attorney,” said Nathan. I would come home and work on my Lego sculptures. I had a website that exhibited my work. When my website broke because it got too many hits, I knew I had to make a life change. So I quit my job, and started making art.” As for his scales, the reason why he does life sized sculptures is because he feels he expresses himself better that way. “The larger the sculpture, I might have to use support beams made of Legos. But because I glue the pieces, that tends to be enough.”
When the DC Lego art exhibit launches this November, it will start in Sydney, Australia. From there it will go on its worldwide city tour. As an extra treat for the audience, Nathan revealed a piece that will be a part of the tour: A two faced Batman and Joker.
Never before has art, Lego, and DC been merged into a cohesive medium. I sure can’t wait till it eventually makes its way here to San Diego.
The Elite Beat Staff is a trained squad of ninja masters.