With his latest exhibition now open in the UK, Nathan Sawaya discusses using LEGO bricks to recreate comic book icons in The Art of the Bricks: DC Super Heroes
In a series of galleries, LEGO artists Nathan Sawaya takes guests into the world of DC super heroes and villains. Basing his works on the concept of good and evil, with decades of comic book lore to delve into, he has used over 2 million LEGO bricks to bring these characters to LEGO life. In this conversation with Brick Fanatics, the LEGO Certified Professional explained how his latest project came to fruition.
This exhibition has been to Sydney and Madrid, are there any new pieces for this stop on the tour?
There are some new pieces debuting here in London, just a few pieces here and there. It’s ongoing, so like any artist you can tweak it as you go. Having these exhibitions travelling means when I get to a new location I can just tweak it a little more, add a different character, maybe pull a character and add some stuff. I’m not going to tell you all of the new pieces, but the Joker sitting out front is one of the newer pieces for this location.
Approaching something with as much material as DC comic books, where did you start?
When I take on a project like this I throw myself into it, so it was a year and a half of just researching as much as I could. I was trying to get access to not just the comic books but the other types of things like television shows, other media that they’ve been interpreted through. I wanted to do interpretations of all the characters but in a way that hadn’t been seen before too, try and find some new aspects to it.
Are there any obscure characters you enjoyed creating?
This gallery we’re standing in right now, you’ll see there are many different characters and all of these characters but one has appeared as a member of the Justice League at one point or other in the comics. Do you know which character has not been a member of Justice League? It’s actually Batgirl who has never been in the Justice League. But she’s a great character so I of course wanted to include her in this exhibition. So yeah, she’s the only one. But that’s a fun little fact that researching through the comics – having 75 years of history to go through was quite phenomenal – you find this little titbits.
The man who came up with motion lines for running behind the characters was Carmine Infantino. He was the first comic book artist to use the lines behind the character to give him that speed, that motion. I was like, with LEGO, how can we use the brick in a way to capture those motion lines for Flash? Thank goodness for the 1×16, that’s all I’ve got to say.
As well as more traditional sculptures, characters are represented differently throughout the exhibit. Origins just uses colour, for example, but it is immediately clear which character is which.
That’s exactly the idea behind this piece, that when you just squint at those colours you still know immediately who that character is and that’s the amazing thing. You find that with comic book heroes for sure. Then the mixed bricks, I left that for everyone – that’s us. You be the hero you want to be.
The cubed sculptures in Constructing a Hero use colour in a similar way, but are also uniquely abstract. How did you develop the concept?
Again, playing off the colours again and really just formulating a new type of building for me. I wanted a new type of technique – not that it’s a technical technique, but more just a different look to it. I thought doing the straight representational piece is focused on enough here, let’s do something really different and a little abstract.
Throughout the gallery, you predominantly use traditional 2x bricks – what is about that classic brick shape that appeals to you?
They are standard pieces. I suppose there’s something nostalgic there, those were the bricks I had as a kid. But for me I think it’s important to focus on those distinct lines, the sharp corners, those right angles. When we look at this piece, Green Lantern’s fist, of course all those right angles come across and then as we step away from it those corners blend to curves. That is part of the magic of LEGO and that is what I grew up with and I want to impart on others. And so that hopefully if a child is encouraged or inspired to go home and create, they have these bricks, you can get these bricks and make whatever you can imagine.
That’s not to say I don’t use other elements, you may have seen the Wonder Woman in the following gallery and she’s got her lasso of truth. I decided to use the 1×1 rounds for the lasso.
You collaborated with comic book icon Jim Lee on the Batmobile, did you have any other creative collaborations with comic artists?
Geoff Johns, who was the Chief Creative Officer at DC Entertainment – he’s moved over into film production now, he was able to come by the studio and take a look at the art. He gave feedback which was fantastic because of course he knows comics like no-one else, that was really special to have him there and pick his brain a little. It was great just to have DC Entertainment open up their doors to me and spend some time in their offices in Burbank.
Are there any particular pieces that you expect to really ‘wow’ visitors?
I hope everything has a different ‘wow’ effect, you never know what people are going to like, some people are going be heavy comic book fans and may appreciate some of the history like Action Comics #1 or the Starro cover. So there’s something for the hardcore comic book fans I hope, there’s something for the LEGO fans I hope, hopefully there’s something for everyone.
I don’t know if there’s any particular piece that’s going to grab everyone. I hope the Batmobile, just from a size point. And what we really wanted to do is put on an atmosphere, once this place has the music going, the music swelling as you walk into the Batcave, there’s something there. We want to mix it up, so it is an experience, not just looking at the LEGO bricks but really experiencing the comics, the LEGO, and bring it all together so people really have a fun time here. Hopefully they are inspired, that’s why at the end there’s trays of LEGO bricks to get your hands on right and immediately start creating.
Of all the foods, are burritos the best source of inspiration?
Obviously burritos are the best food for inspiration. I don’t even know why you asked that question.
The Art of the Brick: DC Super Heroes is now open; Sun-Wed 10am-6pm, Thurs 10am-8pm, Fri-Sat 10pm-7pm. Tickets are priced at £16.50 for adults, £11.00 for children. Family tickets are also available.