Creating art, one LEGO brick at a time

At the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, the Little children Tatum and Marley, 4, and Dakota, 2 — saw their favorite toy transformed into works of art. There was a $100 bill, a gray cat and a green man holding up his head — all constructed with thousands of LEGO blocks, all much taller than they were.

“The pencil writing ‘hello’ is the coolest,” said Naomi Eaker, a 6-year-old from Fort Lauderdale.

After “wowing’’ and “oohing’’ over the artwork, the young visitors headed into an adjacent room where tables were topped with thousands of green, blue, red, yellow, black, gray and white LEGO blocks just waiting to be turned into new works.

The Little kids searched through the piles trying to find the right blocks for their creations. After a few minutes, they began building LEGO structures of their own. “You name it, they build it,” said curator of exhibits Jane Hart. Among the many amateur creations: tanks, words, flowers, even a pregnant lady.

That was the intention behind Nathan Sawaya’s artwork.

“Kids find that when they see the work, it opens up the art world for them,” he said. “It transforms what they see as a toy and inspires them to be creative.”

Known as the “Brick Artist,” Sawaya has worked with different mediums but found that people responded best to LEGO blocks — especially children.

He assembled his first LEGO set when he was 5. Thirty-four years later, he has 1.5 million LEGO bricks in his art studio.

As for his favorite piece?

“The next one,” Sawaya said.

Sawaya currently has four exhibits touring the world, and it’s the third time his work has been showcased by the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood. The LEGO exhibit has a significant impact on the number of visitors to the center, Hart said. During the 10-week long exhibition in 2010, 13,000 people visited the museum.

For Naomi’s mom, Tatiana Eaker, 39, who attended the previous exhibitions in 2008 and 2010, the excitement has not worn off.

“It’s interesting to see [Sawaya] come up with new things,” she said.

Sawaya’s average creation uses between 25,000 and 30,000 blocks. For his largest, a billboard that was 53 feet long and 15 feet high, the artist needed 500,000 blocks.

It takes the artist two to four weeks to create a work. Though typical LEGO creations can be broken apart, Sawaya glues his pieces together.

Sculptures range from commonplace items like crayons, a skateboard and a baseball bat, to abstract concepts. There are also portraits and four skulls on the wall — blue, red, yellow and green.

Sawaya’s most well-known design, Yellow, portrays a man opening up his chest to reveal loose LEGO blocks inside.

And at the Art and Culture Center, it’s drawing raves from the young and the young at heart.

Ruth Schoenfeld, 95, visited with fellow residents of Emerald Park Retirement Center.

“Each piece has its own really beautiful aspect,” she said.