Well-known Lego brick sculptor coming to Utah

A world-renowned Lego brick artist is bringing his fun, yet thought-provoking work to Park City.

Nathan Sawaya, 39, started playing with Lego bricks as a child, but unlike most of us, never stopped. His sculptures are life-size and made out of hundreds of thousands of tiny Lego bricks.

His work will be on display at the Kimball Art Center in a free show that runs from Feb. 9 to April 21. Sawaya will be at a members-only opening event Feb. 8 that people can attend by buying a yearlong membership that is $25 for kids and educators and $50 for adults.

This will be his second show at the center, said Robin Marrouche Executive Director of the Kimball Art Center. Sawaya attracted some of the largest crowds the facility has ever had in 2009 with art that appeals to both young children and adults, she said.

"On one hand, it's fun and playful with these humungous statutes made out of these toys we all played with," Marrouche said. "But there is also this really interesting subtext."

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In a piece named "Yellow," Sawaya has created a sculpture of a man opening his chest, with tiny Lego bricks falling out. In another, called "Think," tiny Lego men are climbing out the top of a man's head.

Other pieces, however, are just playful and fun, such as a life-size bumble bee and yellow bear.

The show features 29 sculptures and six wall hangings, ranging in size from 18 inches to nearly 7 feet. Children are amazed when they see the massive sculptures, which typically are made of 15,000 to 25,000 Lego bricks, Marrouche said. They often want to grab the bricks.

"They turn into the main gallery, and they can't believe what they are seeing," she said. "I've got staff tackling children."

Sawaya told The Salt Lake Tribune that he began making the Lego brick sculptures as a stress reliever during his off time when he was a corporate attorney in New York. He created a website — brickartist.com — and did his first show in 2007. Since then, he's displayed his work around the world and been featured on The Today Show, Late Night with David Letterman and the Colbert Report.

He spends more than $100,000 yearly buying Lego bricks and has more than 1.5 million pieces in his New York studio, Marrouche said. He sometimes spends weeks on a sculpture.

"It's very therapeutic to just sit and work hours at a time," Sawaya told the Tribune. "I just put on music, and to me, it's part of the process. I go into it knowing that it's going to take time."

The exhibit is certainly unique in its broad appeal, Marrouche said. Since his last show in Park City, children and adults have been asking when he's coming back.

"It's pretty universal, our love of Legos," Marrouche said. "For him to have converted that into an art medium is pretty special."