Nathan Sawaya and Dean West Elevate Lego to Art
Artists Nathan Sawaya and Dean West unveil their first collaboration at the Openhouse Gallery in New York this week, the fruit of a three-year collaboration merging Sawaya’s sensational Lego sculpture with West’s hyper-realistic imagery. On view from February 28 to March 17 and presented by Avant Gallery, the exhibition is titled “In Pieces” and consists of seven large-scale images with a total of 11 sculptures incorporated into the compositions.
The artists set up scenes in abandoned hotels in the Southwest and snowy landscapes in Toronto, layering Sawaya’s Legos into the photographs during post-production. The work appears sharply realistic, and the pixilated look of the Lego adds an unexpected—and sometimes tough to spot—surprise. Smaller items in the photos took Sawaya a day to build, but more dramatic pieces such as the red dress in Dress took six weeks.
It all started in 2010, when Australian photographer West ordered a large set of Legos as an experiment and, seeking inspiration, began to scan images on the Web where he discovered Sawaya’s existing work in Lego. Skeletal structures and flowing forms made from the toy bricks captivated West, and he met Sawaya in New York just a few weeks later, hashing out a partnership that would drag them across the United States and Canada in a beat-up Jeep.
“I’m just having fun and creating,” says Sawaya. “When I first told my boss that I was quitting my job [as a corporate attorney], I said, ‘I’m going to leave to play with toys.’” But Sawaya and West have elevated the medium past child’s play into the realm of striking, thought-provoking contemporary art.