‘Art of the Brick: DC Comics’

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Yellow Joker featureThere are only a handful of themes which truly stand the test of time. The kind of things shared between generations; dancing across language barriers; appreciated by any child, anywhere, anytime. Lego is definitely one. DC characters are absolutely there. Art is certainly there.

And then whoa! You have someone like Nathan Sawaya combining all three?!? Welcome to the Art of the Brick: DC Comics. Prepare to be joyfully stunned.

By now, the Art of the Brick has been a pretty big thing. In fact, Yellow Man has become an iconic figure; representing the coming together of Artistic Expression with the ubiquitous joy of Lego. Over the last 10 years, Nathan has shown the world how the humble brick can be a serious art medium. Nathan’s art transports many adults back to their childhood and natural creativity while introducing children to the world of modern art.

The next assignment he wanted to take on was a bit more… geeky. And I like it.

Nathan recently traveled to Sydney, Australia, to open his new exhibition The Art of the Brick: DC Comics. While enjoying the Media Preview (perks of being Evil Genius Mum), I caught up with the man himself.

I’ve included most of the interview to share with you, but there is something special about this exhibition. Each piece has something you can connect with personally. Sometimes it’s the iconography; sometimes it is that little bit extra you know about the artist.

Come for a walk with me around the displays and I’ll share a few of Nathan’s secrets. Let’s dive into his Riddler’s Lair and explore the man behind the brick.

Photo courtesy of Evil Genius Mum
Photo courtesy of Evil Genius Mum

Evil-Genius Mum (EGM):  Okay, Nathan. Let’s talk about how this all started. ‘Fess up. How much did you geek out at the idea of working with the DC Team?

Nathan:  Yeah, there was a bit of fun with that! I had been wanting to do something on “good vs. evil,” and that can take many different forms. Heroes and Villains made the most sense. You know, I used to love watching Super Friends as a kid. I naturally went for that.

The concept of Art of the Brick: DC Comics had been playing in Nathan’s mind for some time. He just needed the opportunity to bring DC Comics to the party.

Back in 2012, DC Comics commissioned a piece for their “We Can Be Heroes” campaign (benefiting the Horn of Africa). It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. You know you’ve hit the big time when you are up on stage at San Diego Comic-Con talking about working with Jim Lee on the style and design of the Batmobile. Jim Lee knows cars; Nathan knows how to make a rectangular brick look aerodynamic. You need to go and see this.

Photo courtesy of Nathan Sawaya
Photo courtesy of Nathan Sawaya

EGM:  Knowing your exhibit is going to attract a lot of kids, how did you balance the dark nature of DC with the child-like nature of Lego?

Nathan:  You always have to be aware of the audience. You need to have a little fun but not be afraid to introduce an element of menace. I mean, that’s the nature of these characters.

Nathan:  Take the Joker for example. I needed to make him a little scary. That’s what he is about.

Photo courtesy of Evil Genius Mum
Photo courtesy of Evil Genius Mum

Don’t stress, guys. Nathan’s Joker Mask does have an element of menace to him, but it is done with beautiful balance emergent in “Heroes and Villains.” That’s the secret to Nathan’s exhibit: He stays true to the medium (Lego) as well as showing complete respect for the characters. There’s no anarchy here. Just a playful expression of art to make you think about your heroes… and your villains.

EGM:  So if you were a villain, what would your evil genius superpower be? What would make you the best villain ever?

Nathan:  Well, I always thought there was a little bit of Lex Luthor in me, but I think I am more of the Riddler. A bit of a question at times. People I work with are always saying that about me.

Photo courtesy of Nathan Sawaya
Photo courtesy of Nathan Sawaya

Wandering around the exhibition, you start noticing little riddles hidden away in each and every piece. It’s not just a Wonder Woman bust here or an Aquaman Trident there. There are little details in every part, and it is a lot of fun looking for them.

Many parents want to share their childhood heroes and villains with their kids, and we are seeing a new generation of artists paying homage to our geeky loves. But with precious childhood memories at stake, artists have a responsibility to stay true to form, a balance between paying your respects to the original while envisioning a new path of creativity.

One of the “side themes” in the exhibition is his own interpretation of Cubism and not in that bricky way.

Photo courtesy of Nathan Sawaya
Photo courtesy of Nathan Sawaya

EGM:  Loved the section on Cubism. Is Picasso one of your favorites?

Nathan:  He is obviously an amazing artist but for me it wasn’t really drawing off of Picasso because his type of cubism is a little different from that (section).  That was more of just trying to experiment a bit about color. In fact, I call it the squint test.

Nathan:  Can you “squint” and still tell who they are? So much of superheroes is about color and costume… I wanted to expand on that and try a different type of building. And that’s what led me to this “cube-like” building.

Nathan:  It’s not traditional cubism… I created my own rules for myself, rules to the creations and to the boxes. It had to fit a certain scale or form. It is a bit different to my past examples, but I really liked it.

Now, I can hear you thinking: “Is this exhibit still okay for children?”

OH YEAH! It is absolutely for the kids! My spawnlings are going to love it: Sinister (9yo) and Nefarious (6yo) will be inspired while Zaltu (2yo Goddess of Mischief) is just going to stand in front of Batgirl and Wonder Woman all day. I think we’ll be going more than once over our Summer Holidays.

Photo courtesy of Nathan Sawaya
Photo courtesy of Nathan Sawaya

Of course Nathan made this exhibition accessible for fans of all ages. Nathan is passionate about bringing art and kids back together. Not just in a “comforting relaxing manner,” but in a truly educational and inspiring form.

Nathan is a huge advocate for STEAM, with the inclusion of Art in the typical STEM to provide kids with a full range of expression. He believes so strongly in it, he wants to show people how they can incorporate art as a priority in their lives. Bring Art back into schools as just another normal element of everyday education, not something that is considered a “breather” between English and Math. Using Lego to make his point is both evil and genius.

While the Art of the Brick is pretty famous, not as many people know about his side project–the Art Revolution Foundation, an organization promoting art for happiness, health, and education. Through Art Revolution Foundation, Nathan raises awareness and funds to put art supplies in all kids’ hands through schools and community projects.

EGM:  Both myself personally, and at GeekMom, we are very much into STEAM. We love the idea of the Art Revolution Foundation. So… how’s it going?

Nathan:  It’s great. We are about to make our first grant from the Foundation.

Nathan:  It was really only conceptualized last year (2014). This past year has been more about the fundraising and there’ll just be more and more of that.

EGM:  With your Foundation and your exhibits, I’m sure a lot of people come up and talk to you about the artistic side. Do you ever get excited about the scientific/technical side?

Nathan:  It’s a perfect fit. A mix of both. Take gravity, you really start to get a feel for that fine line of balance between what you want to show, and how to show it without it falling over. That’s art and physics right there.

EGM:  Keeping all of this in mind, do you still get excited about new Lego pieces or are you just about “the block”?

Nathan: <insert evil laugh> Oh, I still get excited. But to be honest, there is not a lot of use for those elements in the art. I like building with the traditional brick. It brings more excitement; more of a challenge.

Nathan:  The child in me is still excited when a new set comes out with new elements. In fact, there are a few pieces in the exhibit where I’ve tried to include that.

Photo courtesy of Evil Genius Mum
Photo courtesy of Evil Genius Mum

I’m not going to spoil too much more of this. You really have to see it for yourself.

Art of the Brick: DC Comics had its world premiere in Sydney, Australia, on the weekend (Saturday, 21 November) at the Powerhouse Museum. I was invited along to the Media Preview to approve before opening.

I approve.

Photo courtesy of Evil Genius Mum
Photo courtesy of Evil Genius Mum
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38 thoughts on “‘Art of the Brick: DC Comics’

  1. Can’t wait to see this exhibition in the school holidays. To be truly evil, I would have the power to attract LEGO and suck up everyone else’s LEGO for myself. No that’s going too far… I’ve always dreamed of being an evil genius/mad scientist type, with super intelligence (and an unlimited budget) so I could create all kinds of fiendish inventions to carry out my evil plans.

    1. No – I love the Lego idea! I could imagine THAT Evil Genius Superpower settling a few arguments in our EG Lair (and the neighbourhood).

      “NO! It’s ALLLLLLL mine!!”

    1. Great review – Nathan is still as approachable as ever! It was great talking to him with a few more years of fandom under his belt, and yet he is still simply in love with his art. Judy, you’ll love his DC exhibition when it reaches the US.

    2. Great review – Nathan is still as approachable as ever. It was great talking to him with a few more years of fandom under his belt, and yet he is still simply in love with his art. Judy, you’ll love his DC Exhibition when it reaches the US. Check out his Art Revolution Foundation too!

  2. I’d choose the ability to levitate and move things with my mind. I’d be great for lifting car wrecks off people, or dumping a ‘mind bubble’ of water on fires, or unarm robbers, or lifting myself so I can fly to intercept incoming missiles. You know, the day to day stuff which bogs down a superhero type like myself. As a bonus I could also stop my three year old from running off, grab a drink from the fridge without getting off the couch and do away with reverse parking.

    1. Stopping the 3yo?!? YES!! This would also be perfect for the when the 2 or 3 YO chooses the other extreme: Not moving at all. Then you can just levitate them to the next pitstop. Oh yes, I like this one…

  3. Time travel. You could use it for good or evil. But I would use to it make sense of all the time travel books I’ve read and movies I’ve seen. They do my head in!

    1. Austin Powers said it best “Oh my god, I’ve gone cross-eyed.” I always cringe when there is some sort of ‘re-boot’ of a fandom. It’s hard enough distinguishing real-canon from head-canon!

    1. Awww, but you could always do something a *little* evil… Maybe “a superpower to eat chocolate without making a sound, so my spawnlings would never know…” 😉

    2. CONGRATULATIONS BETH!! You won the LEGO set!! I’ve sent you an email, so check your inbox and your Spam folder (just in case).

    1. I could SOOO do with that power right now with 2yo Zaltu. Even if just for 30mins of my day…

  4. *searching for Art Revolution post*

    The feature photo is great – courtesy of Destination New South Wales. They have some fantastic ideas for making a Superhero-themed Summer Holiday in Sydney as well. Might need to write about that.

    1. Most definitely. I always picture myself doing a fly-past the control the tower, Top Gun style. 😀

  5. My power would be being able to sense other evils, as they come in all forms, good bad and downright awful. This way I could foil all the plans of the downright awful and use my evil for good x

    1. I see movie direction in your future: “Pause…Set-up…Play”. I’ll bring the popcorn!

  6. As I love messing with people’s heads – like moving the location of drinks at a party or putting things back in the fridge after they just got it out – I think my Evil Genius Superpower would have to be stopping time. I would wreak so much more havoc! I can see fingers up noses, clothes being changed and drinks swapped right in their hands, all while I sit back and enjoy the laughs!!!

    1. You and Dallas (below) must never meet. Nor should you ever be allowed cameras.

      Unless I’m invited to join in. 😉

      1. Hahaha I didn’t even read the other comments. How much fun would it be with two people messing with everyone at a party!!

  7. I’m not sure if my comment worked. I would like the ability to sing the
    same song over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and
    over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and
    over, and over, and not go insane.

    1. Would you be singing to yourself. or out loud? Because if you did that out loud, I have a few minions below with superpowers to freeze time… And I’m not afraid to use them.

  8. My evil superpower would be time travel so I can steal all the lego in the world at every point in time and space!

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