FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Lego artist Nathan Sawaya, right, exhibits his work for the first time in Hawaii when "Brick Art" opens at Pearlridge Center tomorrow. His pieces include "Green," above; "Swim," below, and "Hanging on the Edge," bottom.
Building bliss brick by brick
Lego artist Nathan Sawaya gives up his job as a lawyer to follow his childhood dream
Nathan Sawaya's love affair with Legos began at the age of 5.
» On display: Tomorrow to July 20
» Place: Pearlridge Center, Uptown and Downtown
» Interactive play area: Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends, Downtown
» Demonstration: By Lego sculptor Nathan Sawaya, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday, Uptown
"I got my first Lego set for Christmas," he said. "I stopped everything I was doing and started building things. I think that was a sign."
Sawaya immediately began creating a 36-square foot Lego city in his parent's living room, where it remained until after he left home. "The Lego city was one of the ways I explored my creativity as a child from early on. I kept adding on to it up until I left for college."
Today, Sawaya makes a living as a Lego brick artist. In fact, his New York studio houses 1.5 million Lego bricks. "I organize them by color. There are rows and rows of clear bins ... it's like walking into a rainbow. I like to have a full inventory because I never know what I'm going to do next."
He left his career as a corporate attorney and a six-figure salary to pursue a dream to become an artist, combining his hobbies of sculpture and Lego-building. "It was never about the money. It was about following my dream, my passion. I never doubted my decision for a second. If you do what you love, the money will follow."
And that it has. Sawaya's sculptures are shown at exhibits nationwide, and his work has been commissioned around the globe. "It's definitely become a viable career."
His works take many forms - a 53-foot movie billboard that required a half million bricks, a life-size Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, a 7-foot replica of the Brooklyn Bridge, a large black-and-white self-portrait and a functional air conditioner and computer.
Some of his newest works - a dog, spider, a replica of the Parthenon, a 6-foot swimming figure - will debut at Pearlridge Center tomorrow, as a part of a "Brick Art" exhibit. The average time to build these objects varies, he says, but normally ranges from two to three weeks.
Recently, Sawaya helped design a bedroom for a boy as part of an episode of ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." The boy had two favorite things, sports and Legos, Sawaya said, so he created a roomful of sports equipment - soccer ball, football, murals - all made from Lego bricks. He even made the bed into a football field made of Legos.
"The boy's father was blind," Sawaya said. "He brought his dad into the room and ran his hands over the bricks. It was an incredible experience."
At Pearlridge, Sawaya plans to get a "birds-eye view of people's reactions" to the sculptures. "I'm trying to take Lego in a whole new direction. I hope it's like nothing that they've seen before."
He also hopes kids will relate to the pieces and explore their own creativity. "They may have Legos at home, but don't have big slabs of marble. They can go buy a Lego set and start creating their own artwork."
Sawaya never imagined that Legos could become a full-time job, so he hopes his work sends out an important message - do what makes you happy and "follow your dreams."