Art nurtures the brain. Whether made from clay, paint, wood, or a modern-day toy.

-Nathan Sawaya

Last week my wife and I got the chance to check out the incredible work of world-famous LEGO sculpture artist Nathan Sawaya. His popular exhibit, The Art of the Brick, is currently on display at OMSI in Portland. I’ve been following Nathan’s work for a while now, and was not going to miss the opportunity to see it in person!

Needless to say, we were absolutely blown away by the exhibit. It’s one thing to see Nathan’s amazing sculptures and recreations on the internet, but seeing them in person, and getting the chance to lean in closely to examine and appreciate the detail and artistry that goes into each one, was a whole other experience.

nathan sawaya art of the brick

While I am nowhere near as talented as Nathan, I felt a strong kinship with him while strolling his gallery. I saw a lot of myself reflected back at me in his work. For starters, Nathan uses LEGO to recreate famous works of art, from the Mona Lisa to the Statue of David. As I’ve written about before, I too like to use pre-established works as inspiration for my own photography. It was cool to see Nathan do the same!

nathan sawaya art of the brick

He has a fair share of original sculptures (which my wife knew nothing about, so that was a pretty spectacular experience watching her turn a corner and see them for the very first time) as well, from his most famous piece, “Yellow,” to an enormous tyrannosaurus rex skeleton. Every piece more impressive than the last, Nathan’s work is a shining example of the infinite artistic possibilities a subject like LEGO provides.

That brings me to the second connection I felt with Nathan’s work: His reasoning behind it.

“I use LEGO in my art because the toy is accessible. Chances are you probably don’t have a slab of marble or a ceramic kiln at home. But I bet you have some LEGO bricks.”

-Nathan Sawaya

I love and agree with this sentiment. It is, again, something I’ve written about before. The magic of LEGO seems to draw a lot of artists in, and it brought me immense joy to learn that such a pure reason was behind Nathan’s work as well. There were several kids in the exhibit, and it was incredible to see the wonder in their eyes as they stared upon all of the sculptures. At the end of the gallery, there was even a station of LEGO bricks donated by the Portland Bricks and Minifigs store, where children could immediately take the inspiration they’d gained from the gallery before and build something of their own!

As familiar as I was with Nathan’s work before going to the exhibit, there was one particular project I hadn’t heard of before that I think will be especially inspirational for toy photographers: his collaboration with photographer Dean West, titled “In Pieces.” Nathan creates his usual brand of impressive sculptures, and places them in real-world settings that are then photographed by Dean. It’s toy photography on a real-life scale! I had never considered such a medium before, but was blown away by how cool it could be. If you haven’t heard of or seen “In Pieces,” I highly recommend checking it out here.

nathan sawaya art of the brick

This red dress was sculpted by Nathan and worn by a model for the In Pieces project. So cool!

You never know the impact that your work could have, or where it could take you in your own life.

After all, Nathan was a lawyer before becoming a full-time artist!

“When I was a lawyer I quickly came to realize I was more comfortable sitting on the floor creating sculptures than I was sitting in a boardroom negotiating contracts. My own personal conflicts and fears, coupled with a deep desire for overall happiness, paved the way to becoming a full-time working artist.”

-Nathan Sawaya

I chose to write about this experience not only to gush about Nathan’s exhibit (which you should definitely check out if you have the chance, it’s up until May 29th), but to recommend that you seek out art to view in person, whether it be a photo gallery or displays of life-sized LEGO sculptures. I left The Art of the Brick inspired and excited about my own work, and will now consider new ways I can push the envelope and continue Nathan’s quest to bring the art of LEGO to the masses.

Have you ever been to an art exhibit? What kind of inspiration did you take away from the experience? Sound off in the comments below, and remember to join the discussion in our G+ community as well!