The Art of the Brick

If you’re in the market for a different exhibition experience, original renderings of old favourites and dubious art-related puns, then you ought to catch The Art of the Brick which is currently enjoying an extended run until April 2015.

It is apt that Nathan Sawaya’s latest venture in the UK has found a temporary home on Brick Lane. The Old Brewery, bang in the middle of what has now become a vibrant artistic centre, lends itself to an exhibition of this size and popularity for those who are willing to make the pilgrimage from the well-trodden tracks of the usual haunts. A Classicist by nature, I had intended the visit as little more than a novelty and Sawaya had clearly seen me coming from a mile.

An arresting life-size Augusto di Prima Porto in marble-grey immediately dispelled any preconception I had about what constitutes ‘art’. The Roman original is both familiar and a favourite; this ‘brixellated’ re-iteration remarkably true-to-life. Sawaya’s conviction that ‘the human form’ is his ‘favourite subject’ must surely have motivated this rendering of Augustus’ commanding intensity. As for the gravity-defying drapery, that speaks for itself.

From Rome to Florence in a matter of minutes, Sawaya takes on Michelangelo’s celebrated David  with similar sensitivity and commendable finesse. The reductive process of marble sculpting and the nature of the material so suit this sort of figural sculpture and yet Sawaya’s innovative method somehow evokes the same shape and softness of flesh. Here, I think, is an example of an artist truly having the measure of his material: ‘I…appreciate the cleanliness of the Lego brick. The right angles. The distinct lines. But, from a distance, those right angles and distinct lines offer new perspectives, changing to curves.’

Sawaya’s original designs push such perspectives to the max. His peaceful Swimmer (main image), displayed in an alcove of its own, combines the dual nature of the Lego brick as a tool for construction and creation with intelligent and eye-catching effect.

The label for Kissing, describes this process in detail, explaining that it was his intention to ‘capture that “moment” where it appears that two people melt together’. A melée of interlocking crimson bricks, the result is seductively satisfying.

Comprising some 75 works of art, the exhibition by no means focuses solely on figurative sculpture. Indeed, the sheer variety makes for a delightfully immersive experience and betrays the sheer wealth of creativity in Sawaya’s arsenal.

Bustling between the 1 million plastic bricks you will find children of all ages, from infant to elderly, and quite rightly so. As Sawaya readily admits, ‘…fortunately, there are no rules in art’ and so his creations are not for a particular audience, but for the delight of anyone with an active imagination. His lasting message is this: Inspiration is everywhere and creation is key.

Main image: Nathan Sawaya, Figure holding lifeless Body,
 (photo: Jane Hobson)

The Art of the Brick 
26 September 2014 – 12 April 2015
Old Truman Brewery,Loading Bay, Ely’s Yard, 15 Hanbury Street, London E1 6QR

Aurora Corio