Nathan Sawaya shapes rigid, plastic LEGO blocks into intricate and dynamic figures in his exhibition, The Art of the Brick, on display in the Back Bay through Sunday, April 23. The contemporary artist is returning to Boston following sold-out shows in Faneuil Hall in 2014. Twice as large, this installation features over 90 of his newest sculptures assembled from nearly one million LEGOs that are individually glued together.
“I think the role of an artist is to inspire. I hope that by sharing this work with the community, they are inspired. I have found over time that art is not optional,” a message Sawaya emphasizes throughout the exhibition. “If you have a little art in your life, you’re going to be smarter.”
Visitors can explore three floors of original artwork and re-imagined masterpieces. The collection includes a description and the number of LEGOs used in each design.
On the first floor, one can view a version of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” (3,493 pieces), and a three-dimensional, full-scale, mosaic-like replica of Gustav Klimt’s oil and gold leaf painting, “The Kiss” (18,893 pieces), of a couple embracing on a bed of grass and flowers.
Stand beside “Dinosaur Skeleton,” (80,020 pieces), a 20-foot-long Tyrannosaurus rex, which took Sawaya an entire summer to construct; or peer into “Pop-Up Book” (19,822 pieces), in which a castle appears from the middle of an open story book.
The third floor is an interactive area. In “Pink Dreams” (102,938 pieces), sit on a pastel, wingback armchair that is surrounded by whimsical accoutrements like a heart-shaped pillow and giant soft serve ice cream cone. Families can design cars to race on a track in the creative LEGO brick play stations.
Sawaya grew up in a small, Oregon town. He has loved playing with LEGOs since he was 5-years-old; even bringing the nostalgic toys to college and storing them beneath his bed as a source of comfort.
Later in life, Sawaya discovered LEGOs as an art medium. He still enjoys receiving sets as gifts, as he finds building according to instructions to be relaxing. The 1×2 jumper — with one stud in the middle of a plate — is Sawaya’s favorite LEGO brick to use because it provides him options for details.
“I don’t feel the passage of time when I’m building. I go into a trance; and I am building away. I’ll do 10-12 hours with no problem. Office work for 10 hours was mind-numbing and draining,” groaned the former New York City corporate lawyer. “This is a different type of work that I really enjoy. I found my passion.”
Sawaya’s skills in contract negotiations have helped him as a businessman. His LEGO sculptures have been on display in over 100 cities in 24 countries.
“The role depression played resulted in certain works,” revealed Sawaya, whose sculptures reflect the construction of identity. “There are themes of emerging, transition, and metamorphosis that come out of the time I was a lawyer.”
When Sawaya initially began approaching galleries to feature his LEGO creations, he received opposition; once he began using movement in human form, the art world began to open. He was approached by Warner Brothers Pictures to create a 1:1 scale replica of the Central Perk coffee shop in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Friends sitcom.
“I was trying to showcase how you could put emotion into the art,” explained Sawaya. “It had to be life-size for it to work.”
In The Art of the Brick, Sawaya collaborated with photographer, Dean West, to produce brick-infused images. He imitated the flow of fabric in “Red Dress” (62,750 pieces), an asymmetrical cocktail dress with a sweetheart neckline that is worn by a model in one of West’s photographs.
“In this gallery, called ‘In Pieces,’ we see the integration of the work into photography. That was pure joy because I got to take LEGO in a new direction. It wasn’t just putting art on a pedestal,” said Sawaya. “That was an amazing time for me.”
View the Art of the Brick in the newly-renovated museum space located at 343 Newbury Street (previously Forever 21) Sunday-Thursday 10am-6pm, and Friday-Saturday 10am-8pm. Tickets cost $24 for children and $28 for adults. Visit www.ArtOfTheBrickExhibit.com for more information.
‘Twas the Night Before showing at the Wang Theatre through Sunday
Story by Marianne Salza
Cirque du Soleil is presenting “’Twas the Night Before” at the Wang Theatre through December 11. This cheerful and thrilling production is a playful twist on the iconic Christmas poem, “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” by Clement Clarke Moore.
“It’s cold outside, but we are bringing the warmth,” beamed acrobat and hoop diver, Evan Tomlinson Weintraub, of San Francisco, California. “It is a moment for families to come together.”
This holiday season, join Cirque du Soleil for its first Christmas show about the spirit of Christmas, and the wonders of sharing and friendship. On Christmas Eve, a father reads the classic story to his teenage daughter, Isabelle. Disenchanted by the craze of Christmas, Isabelle is uninterested in the family tradition.
Magic emerges as a spark of light; and the jaded Isabelle is separated from her father by a storm. She is whisked on a fantastical journey through a winter wonderland, where the young girl meets reimagined characters from the poem.
Unlike in the original version of the tale, the children in “’Twas the Night Before” are not snuggled in their beds, patiently awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus. Dressed in candy cane-striped onesie pajamas, they are wide awake and eager to see Santa in this high-energy, comical, acrobatic table routine.
“My character is so happy waiting for Santa Claus,” laughed acrobat and hoop diver, Jinge Wang, of China, who plays a boy that instigates the frenzied chaos.
Similar to his character, Wang remembers being too excited to sleep on Christmas Eve. Although he spent last Christmas performing with Cirque du Soleil in Mexico, Wang associates Christmas with chilliness, snow – and, no matter the temperature — eating ice cream.
“It’s a big celebration with family,” described Wang about what Christmas means to him. “Everybody enjoys the Christmas atmosphere.”
Wang and Weintraub’s favorite trick is performed in the scene, when the little ones hear Santa on the roof.
“In three high, people stand on top of each other’s shouders, looking for Santa Claus. I’m the one on top. Then I fall and roll. I can’t see the audience, but I can hear their screaming and clapping” explained Wang, who has studied acrobatics for 22 years, and also practiced wushu, Chinese martial arts.
Weintraub, as Prancer, and Wang, as Comet, also perform in the hoop diving act that introduces Santa’s playful reindeer as a collaborative team.
“I think what’s nice about this show is that it’s built for families,” said Weintraub, who celebrates Christmas on a warm beach with his family. “We tap into the memories of when we were kids, and translate that energy to them to make the show special.”
Weintraub and Wang especially love the enthusiasm and awe of young viewers.
“The more feedback from the audience, the more it helps us to go further,” smiled 30-year-old, Weintraub, who has been a circus acrobat for 18 years; and before that, was a gymnast. “We are giving so much energy, that when we receive it back, it’s like a cycle. It gets better and better.”
Friends, Weintraub and Wang, worked together in “’Twas the Night Before,” in 2019 when the production first debuted. To prepare this year, the acrobats rehearsed the choreography for seven weeks: six days a week for five hours.
“This show has become a hit and classic for Cirque du Soleil,” said Weintraub, who appreciates the supportive teamwork of the circus. “We’re not seeing outrageous changes to it. We’re coming back into a roll that’s familiar, which is nice. It’s a significant amount of time to put in and be learning something. It’s muscle memory now.”
Weintraub and Wang’s golden-antlered reindeer conclude the production as Isabelle is reunited with her father; and they read the poem together.
“They start to explore what Christmas means, where the spark of Christmas comes from, and what it means to share the warmth and light with each other,” Weintraub revealed.