A lawyer has turned child's play into a career, creating art one tiny piece at a time.
Whoever thinks snapping toy Lego bricks together is mere child's play should study the works of artist Nathan Sawaya on exhibit at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood.
The imagined curved lines of a cello created with 6,540 rich-brown bricks. The seemingly rounded corners of a half-real, half-Lego 2,989-brick red bicycle. And many more creations, including human figures in various states of movement and expression. After studying these works, you can't help but wonder: How did he do that?
The answer is simple: One brick at a time.
Sawaya prefers the standard rectangular pieces. ``I like the distinct lines, right angles and sharp corners, but when you step away you see the human form and the rounded shapes emerge. It's all about perspective,'' said Sawaya, as he was surrounded by hundreds of onlookers who watched him click bricks into a peace-sign sculpture at the center June 5.
``If you keep an open mind, you can make art of the least expected things,'' said Michael Gluzman of Aventura, who brought his son, Alec, 9, to the live event.
Sawaya, 36, of New York City, has built a career of building blocks.
A lawyer who was earning a six-figure income, Sawaya entered a Lego competition in 2003 to become a ``master builder'' for $13 to $15 an hour at Legoland in Carlsbad, Calif.
He got the job and a chance to play all day.
Later, when Sawaya's website showcasing Lego creations that included a life-size Hans Solo and a room-size Statue of Liberty crashed from too many hits, he went professional. Now, a guy who built a Lego dog at age 8 is back to earning the big bucks through commissions.
Donald Trump, rocker Pete Wentz and comedian Stephen Colbert are among Sawaya's famous clients. His largest creation was a 500,000-piece billboard that was 15 feet tall and 53 feet wide for the movie Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium.
The Hollywood exhibit is one of three Sawaya shows now traveling the nation. Home is Sawaya's Manhattan studio, where he keeps 1.5 million bricks. An additional one million bricks are stored in a warehouse.
For the Hollywood sculpture, Sawaya used bricks donated by hundreds of kids and fans who cleaned out closets to give a piece of their childhood to Lego art.
``Instead of ending up in a landfill, Legos are going to art,'' Sawaya said. ``It's my contribution to recycling.''
Meanwhile, dozens of children toyed with thousands more donated Lego bricks in a room a few steps away from the main gallery.
Max Riguaud, 10, of Boca Raton fashioned an alligator and a dragon fly he called Tribute to the Everglades. Max, who wants to be a Lego toy designer when he grows up, said he was inspired by Sawaya's creations.
``I always thought of Legos as art. And when I first saw the exhibit, I thought, `Wow, this is something I could do,' '' Max said.
The Art and Culture Center of Hollywood is giving everyone a chance to make Lego art with the Florida Brick Creation Challenge.
Joy Satterlee, the center's executive director, said Lego lovers age 6 to 96 or older can participate in the contest as individuals or in teams. The center will start accepting Lego creations Aug. 1.
Pieces will be displayed in the center's galleries Aug. 7 through the contest's award-presentation event at 2 p.m. Aug. 15.
Sawaya said his exhibits attract both children and adults. he hopes they will be inspired to create art on their own in any form.
``But I think we're going to see a Lego art movement,'' Sawaya said.
The son of a civil engineer, Sawaya said many of his pieces, such as his 22,940-brick Solar System, require some preplanning on mechanical paper, but others, works, like the live creation of the multicolored peace sign, come from ideas he sees in his head.
Group tours of the Art and Culture Center include a guided walk through the exhibit and the chance for visitors to make their own Lego creations. Sawaya's 2008 show of earlier Lego works broke the center's 30-year visitor record. ``Summer is the perfect time for a show like this,'' Satterlee said. ``It's serious art, it's fine art. It's colorful, playful and accessible for young kids and the young at heart.''