The man who turns Lego into emotionally charged artworks, brick-by-brick

Published 6:28 AM ET, Fri September 26, 2014
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Yellow (brick count: 11,014)

From a 20-foot-long dinosaur to a quintessential English phone box, Nathan Sawaya can make almost anything with Lego. Having received his first Lego set at 5 years old, the New York based artist now builds extraordinary Lego sculptures as a career. Featuring over 80 pieces of art and over one million Lego pieces, Sawaya's touring exhibition - The Art of the Brick - has finally arrived in London.

By Monique Todd, for CNN
Courtesy of Jane Hobson
Swimmer (brick count: 10,980)

Creating the human body out of Lego is often the most challenging and lengthy task. "Life-size human forms can take 2-3 weeks depending on how complex the model is."

The Swimmer, pictured, took 15 days to create.
Courtesy of Jane Hobson
Circle Torso (brick count: 10,305) Triangle Torso (brick count 9,147) Square Torso (brick count: 9,957)

The life of a Lego artist is surprisingly intense. Sawaya's working day requires plenty of focus, patience and stamina. "It's a lot of work - I spend 10-12 hours every day in the studio - but it's my passion and I love doing it." With a team of assistants managing logistics and finances, Sawaya is completely free to dive into the creative process. In fact, he constructs every sculpture himself - "when it comes to the art, it's still these very hands."
Courtesy of Jane Hobson
Dinosaur (brick count 80,020)

Sawaya doesn't, however, work on one piece at a time. Instead, he switches between projects depending on his mood and mind-set. "If you were to visit the studio, you'll see that there's many different projects going on at once" says Sawaya. "The size and complexity always determines how long something is going to take"
Courtesy of Jane Hobson
Skulls (brick count 12,444)

However, Sawaya's former day job wasn't so colorful. As a corporate lawyer, he found his creativity stunted and would spend evenings drawing, painting and sculpting with Lego. After a few years, Sawaya set up an online gallery to showcase his Lego work. The day the website crashed from too many hits was the day Sawaya decided to stop practicing law. "I made the decision to tell my boss that I was leaving to go play with toys! That was an interesting day."
Courtesy of Jane Hobson
Grasp (brick count: 17,356)

Law, it seems, is a distant memory. "I'll never return to the law profession!" says Sawaya. "I didn't want to have a safety net that I could fall back on - I wanted that kick in the pants"
Courtesy of Jane Hobson
My Boy (brick count: 22,590)

So far, Sawaya's work has taken the shape of recognizable cultural images, such as the Mona Lisa, Rodin's The Thinker and even The Beatles. Though, many of his pieces also have personal and emotional significance. "A lot of the different sculptures are about my personal transitions, my personal metamorphosis in my life and the emotions that I've gone through."
Courtesy of Jane Hobson
Mask (brick count: 18,509)

Despite the prominence of technology, Sawaya holds that making things by hand is more important than ever. It's this very quality, Sawaya claims, that enamors audiences. "Part of the power of the exhibition is knowing that everything was created by hand!"
Courtesy of Jane Hobson
Red Telephone Box (brick count: 11,575)

Sawaya's work is a testament to the endless enthusiasm for the humble brick, but will the world ever tire of Lego? "You never know!" Sawaya laughs "It's been around for decades and decades - people still love it."
Courtesy of Jane Hobson
Stop, Look and Live (brick count: 5,941)

So what's next for the Lego artist? After asking about his upcoming projects, Sawaya goes quiet. "I don't talk about what I'm working on very much till it's ready to be debuted!"

Will he stick to making Lego sculptures or will he try out other materials?
"I have over 4 million bricks in my studio" says Sawaya "so for now I'll probably stick with Lego."
Courtesy of Jane Hobson