"Yellow" is a sculpture of Lego bricks by artist Nathan Sawaya

"Yellow" is a sculpture of Lego bricks by artist Nathan Sawaya.

Credit: Rough Draft Atlanta

Choosing creativity over convention launched Nathan Sawaya from corporate lawyer to a world-renowned artist and LEGO certified professional.

artist Nathan Sawaya

Nathan Sawaya

Credit: Rough Draft Atlanta

The journey has culminated in a global touring exhibition called “The Art of the Brick,” which is making its debut at Exhibition Hub Art Center in Doraville on April 23. The exhibit will feature 70 installations using more than 1 million Legos and will include his most famous work, titled “Yellow.”

The circuitous path that led him to Atlanta started early in his childhood when he realized following a set of instructions was a lot less satisfying than exploring the unknown.

At 10, while growing up on the West Coast, Sawaya built a 36-square foot Lego city in his childhood living room following the kit’s instructions. After his request for a dog was vetoed by his parents, he dismantled the city and built a life-sized Lego dog using just his imagination.

“I realized that I didn’t have to follow the instructions,” he said. “I guess the effort worked because about a year later, my parents realized maybe I did deserve to have a dog, and I got one.”

While Legos were still a part of Sawaya’s life, he put aside his toys of childhood to attend New York University, where he received a bachelor’s and later, a law degree.

Firmly established in his practice in California, Sawaya said he realized in 2004 that his career choice didn’t fit his need to create art for himself and others.

“I wasn’t happy as a lawyer, but I thought I could be happy as an artist,” he said. “My friends and family were supportive, but my (law) partners were mostly confused.”

Despite the skepticism, Sawaya, calling the leap a “calculated risk,” put several measures into place that ensured he wouldn’t let fear deter his dream.

“I created a website, and I had a plan that I put into place,” he said. “I also let my law license expire so I wouldn’t have a fall back.”

His “calculated risk” has paid off, with record-breaking shows and installations all over the world, numerous prestigious awards, the publication of two best-selling books and now “The Art of the Brick,” which will be housed in Doraville through the spring.

Along with “Yellow,” the 70-piece exhibit will feature “Perniciem” (which is Latin for ruin, disaster and death) that highlights endangered species in their natural environments, including a 10-foot tall giraffe, an artic fox, a humpback whale and other larger-than-life pieces.

Sawaya said the process of constructing the installations can be both magical and heartbreaking.

“It starts as an idea, then a sketch, and once I have the idea, I envision how it will look and then start building and gluing as I go,” he said. “There are many times I have to take a hammer and a chisel to it because it’s not quite right.”

“That may take hours or even days taking down the work that I spent so much time working on,” he continued. “Patience is a big part of the process.”

The Exhibition Hub had been working with Sawaya and his team for the past three years to bring the experience to Atlanta.

“Nathan is the world’s foremost Lego artist,” Mario Iacampo, CEO and creative director of Exhibition Hub, said. “It is our honor to now help take Nathan’s work to an even higher level with a totally immersive canvas worthy of his genius.”

Sawaya said his childhood belief about art being a magical experience still resonates with him today.

“Art is not optional for me and it’s not optional for anyone,” Sawaya said. “Art is magical — it elevates your mood and it makes you happier and smarter. That’s what I hope my work does for everyone who experiences it.”

The Exhibition Hub Arts Center is located at 5660 Buford Hwy. NE, in Doraville. Tickets are now on sale for “The Art of the Brick” and can be purchased by visiting theartcenters.com. The Claude Monet immersive experience is also housed in the 50,000-square-foot facility.

This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with Rough Draft Atlanta.

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