Nathan Sawaya: The Park People Series
Installation on view until September 30th
by Genie Davis
North Hollywood-based sculptural artist Nathan Sawaya works in an unusual medium: Legos. His traveling Park People series is on view at the Wells Fargo Center in DTLA, charming visitors and luring Instagram-craving photographers by the score.
The interactive installation will be moving on after September 30th, but Sawaya is leaving a lasting impression with his work, which is far more than visual tourism.
Sawaya has made it his mission to make art accessible, and that he does, with works that are life-like and human. While Legos are hardly a soft-edged form, he manages to create shapes that are decidedly sinuous and alive.
According to Sawaya “I find the human form to be the most intriguing subject matter when sculpting out of Lego bricks. It allows me to inject emotion and fluidity into the rigid plastic toy. The juxtaposition of the sharp corners forming the soft curves of the human body is compelling,” he says. “Like so much in life, it is about a matter of perspective: up close the sculptures are right angles and small rectangles, but change your perspective, add some distance, and the corners blend into curves.”
There is something quite magical about these changes in perspective, and the forms he creates. Orange, green, red, blue – the figures take on different poses that their human viewers often imitate. It’s as if we want to imbue them with our life force, or perhaps make the life force that Sawaya has put into the figures come out full tilt, and join us.
The orange sculpture sitting cross-legged draws visitors to recreate the meditative pose; the red and yellow figures posed on back-to-back benches seem to be expressing their own views on life – the yellow figure, arm outstretched, is open and relaxed; the red figure hunched slightly forward, arms dangling between his legs, seems lost in thought. In short, the figures aren’t just accessible art, they are emotionally relatable.
What first inspired Sawaya to choose his medium was finding a form that made his art just that, relatable and accessible. “By using a child’s toy as the medium, audiences of all ages and backgrounds can relate to the works. I have found that families who may have never been to an art gallery are drawn to my Art of the Brick exhibitions because of that familiarity and affinity with the toy. And so, in a sense, by using a medium that people may have at home, it is about the democratizing of the art world.”
The reaction to his Los Angeles exhibition has differed from other traveling exhibition of his work in a number of key ways, the artist notes.
“Generally, my sculptures found in museums and galleries are not interactive in nature. The viewer does not have an opportunity to touch or feel the art. However, with the Park People installation in Los Angeles, the viewer is encouraged to sit with the art, to feel it and even to converse with it.”
And indeed, viewers do just that. They spend time with these non-judgmental, universally human forms.
“These figures are great secret-keepers. When the installation first debuted last year at the White House, even President Obama sat and had a conversation with one of the figures. The reaction in Los Angeles has been equally fantastic, with an overwhelming number of people taking time to sit and interact with the sculptures. I hope the Park People provided a small respite for Angelinos from their busy lives.”
Brought to Wells Fargo Center by Arts Brookfield, the six monochromatic human figures are each modeled after Sawaya’s own form. Their positions, whether contemplative, relaxed, meditative, or seemingly just waiting for a friend to arrive, are both whimsical and profound – just like “real” people in the park.