Around 80 of Nathan Sawaya’s LEGO(c) structures are on show in “Art of the Brick” at Old Truman Brewery, London. Ends January 2015.

“Fortunately, there are no rules in art”

Here are the rules for visiting “Art of the Brick” exhibition at Old Truman Brewery, London.

  1. Do not touch the art.
  2. Photography is allowed but not with a flash.
  3. Anyone can make art, even corporate lawyers who leave a lucrative career for another lucrative career as a full-time artist making objects like this:

    Nathan Sawaya, 'Knot', date unknown, LEGO bricks, in 'Art of the Brick' at Truman Brewery, London. Photo credit Kelise Franclemont. 'I love puzzles, problems to solve.'
    Nathan Sawaya, ‘Knot’, date unknown, LEGO bricks, in ‘Art of the Brick’ at Truman Brewery, London. Photo credit Kelise Franclemont. ‘I love puzzles, problems to solve.’

Viewers are able to see amazing LEGO(c) models for only £14 per ticket (children enter for slightly cheaper), so here’s a bit of advice: Skip the first room full of models of Nathan Sawaya‘s assertions that LEGO(c) is art, because recognisable art things.

Ergo, this model of Julius Caesar.

Nathan Sawaya, LEGO model of Julius Caesar, date unknown, LEGO bricks, in 'Art of the Brick' at Truman Brewery, London. Photo credit Kelise Franclemont.
Nathan Sawaya, LEGO model of Julius Caesar, date unknown, LEGO bricks, in ‘Art of the Brick’ at Truman Brewery, London. Photo credit Kelise Franclemont.

The next two rooms are where the viewer might find some art. This smallish sculpture of two figures, about a metre tall, instantly captured my attention. Because of the brilliant red, the lighting, and harsh shadows, I read it as sort of an Adam and Eve situation; he attempts to lead her out of Paradise, yet she hesitates.

Nathan Sawaya, 'Everlasting', date unknown, 10,584 LEGO bricks, in 'Art of the Brick' at Truman Brewery, London. Photo credit Kelise Franclemont. Placard reads: 'Love lives forever. It outlives youth and a flat stomach and a full head of hair. And that's what makes it beautiful.'
Nathan Sawaya, ‘Everlasting’, date unknown, 10,584 LEGO bricks, in ‘Art of the Brick’ at Truman Brewery, London. Photo credit Kelise Franclemont. Placard reads: ‘Love lives forever. It outlives youth and a flat stomach and a full head of hair. And that’s what makes it beautiful.’

But no. I read that wrong, completely. And learned not to read the placards because Sawaya states that this piece is about:

Bricks count: 10, 584.

And “Everlasting” is also about:

Love lives forever. It outlives youth and a flat stomach and a full head of hair. And that’s what makes it beautiful.

Therein lies the first of my problems with this exhibition: the artist doesn’t display confidence in his work to just LET IT BE, or let the viewer bring his/her experience to the work.

“Everlasting” could’ve been so much more than the artist himself gives it credit for. This is a key first-year art school lesson but…I’m NOT saying that Sawaya needs or should to go to art school; what I am saying is that all artists may benefit from constructive critique (pun intended 😉 ) And from the endless gushy bits of text appearing everywhere like unwanted spectres, to the curation, it’s evident that Sawaya has not benefited from critique, which is a real shame because his sculpture has so much potential to transcend the medium.

“My favourite subject is the human form”

I didn’t need to be told this tidbit, yet there it is on the wall, in lettering a foot high. Anyhoo, in another series, Sawaya presents what appear to be classical theatre masks depicting comedy (red) and drama (yellow), with the third (blue) bearing a strong likeness to Sawaya himself.

I was transfixed by these three masks, seemingly lit from within, and pushing out of the black wall like something out of a sci-fi film. Jay Merrick, for The Independent, writes about “Facemasks” that he, too, was “stopped in his tracks” as Sawaya “perhaps unwittingly, poses questions about the nature – actually, the lack of nature – of 21st century reality“, works that also challenge “our perceptions of form, colour and meaning.” Sawaya puts himself in this series, but not in the centre, perhaps a manifestation of self, “a figure in transition”, while nearby, looming white text high up on the black wall murmurs on about

…the metamorphosis I am experiencing in my own life. My figures grow out of my fears and accomplishments, as a laywer, and as an artist, as a boy and as a man.

[sigh] I didn’t look at the blurbs attached to the “Facemasks” so I have to agree with Merrick that his reading of the work is probably not what Sawaya intended.

Turned a corner to see this gem:

Most people don’t have a block of marble at home, but I hope that today, they’ll sufficiently inspired to take a few LEGO(c) bricks and get off the beaten path!

[another sigh] I appreciate and am truly grateful for such an enthusiastic champion for art of all kinds, but by his own words, Sawaya is actually prohibiting critical and potentially interesting dialogue about his own work which could make his work more convincing as the art he clearly is perishing to make.

Another corner and I was confronted by this weird and charming little thing made of 5,690 LEGO(c) bricks, apropos of nothing. (Don’t get me wrong, I liked it, it made me LOLz.)

Nathan Sawaya, 'Computer', date unknown, 5,690 LEGO bricks, in 'Art of the Brick' at Truman Brewery, London. Photo credit Kelise Franclemont.
Nathan Sawaya, ‘Computer’, date unknown, 5,690 LEGO bricks, in ‘Art of the Brick’ at Truman Brewery, London. Photo credit Kelise Franclemont.

I have been looking forward to seeing this exhibition for weeks but felt largely let down by all of the models, “The Artist Speaks” quotes everywhere, and the opportunity to “Create your own sculptures”, which seemed to be pandering/patronising to kids and adults alike.

The “Create your own sculptures” room was in fact a gift shop, which surprisingly had very few LEGO(c) sets for sale (but did have hundreds of random bricks scattered on three or so tables). And for £5, one can take home a 30-odd page booklet which tells Sawaya’s tale of bricks-to-riches. Apparently, all one has to do to be an artist is to “follow your dreams… one brick at a time”.

Excerpt from 'Nathan Sawaya's Art of the Brick Colouring book'. Illustrated by Len Peralta.
Excerpt from ‘Nathan Sawaya’s Art of the Brick Colouring book’. Illustrated by Len Peralta.

Of course, the moral of the story is, soon after becoming an artist, you’ll have “millions of bricks”…

More links and information

Exhibition details: ‘The Art of the Brick’ is on at Old Truman Brewery, Loading Bay, Ely’s Yard, 15 Hanbury Street, London, E1 6QR from 26 September 2014 through 4 January 2014. Paid admission, concessions. Step-free access.

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