The Art of the Brick debuts LEGO masterpieces in Tampa Bay Area

The Vinik Family Foundation continues efforts to bring creative glee to Tampa with The Art of the Brick, a free, global touring exhibition that opened June 23 and closes September 4 in downtown Tampa.

The foundation’s 2016 Bay Area installation The Beach Tampa incorporated thousands of clear balls in an interactive setting; now at 802 East Whiting Street, 100 works of LEGO brick art crafted by artist Nathan Sawaya reveal an artistic showcase that appeals to children, teens and adults.

“Our hope is that this exhibit broadens peoples’ definition of art,” says Penny Vinik, “and that it inspires those who visit to create.”

Art aficionados will recognize Degas’ Little Dancer, one of Penny Vinik’s favorite pieces. Vermeer’s Girl With the Pearl Earring is here, that famous accessory a clear protruding Lego. Miss Mona Lisa maintains her familiar steady expression through a smooth LEGO canvas.

“The LEGO brick makes art so accessible,” says Sawaya, who uses the same bricks sold in toy stores to make his art. “Here, kids who have never heard of works like Mona Lisa can start asking questions.”

Replications of famous art are joined by Sawaya’s individual interpretations. The artist’s descriptions of each piece are both informative and thoughtful, often inviting viewers to relate a theme to their own life experience. He enjoys seeing how people connect with his art on different levels -- while some cite his massive sculptures as favorites, others find beauty in the smooth lines of an apple.

"The exhibit was amazing and it truly moved me. I didn't know much about the artist behind the LEGO masterpieces and when I learned of his story in the beginning of the exhibit it gave me the chills,'' says Deidre Goble, who visited with her two young boys. "He (Sawaya) has such a passion for building incredible replicates of famous art, as well as his own creations, and it's ever-present in his work.''

Her boys' favorite part? The dinosaur exhibit because it was ''huge and made out of LEGOs.''

Dig in for family fun

Though visitors are asked to keep their hands off the displays, by the end of the exhibit they’re welcome to go elbow-deep into bins filled with colorful blocks. Perhaps they’ll commit to sculpting a life-size sculpture of the human form like Sawaya’s take on Michelangelo’s David. For such likenesses, Sawaya uses 15,000-25,000 bricks. Or they could elect to assemble a dinosaur like the largest structure the artist has built to date, a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton 20 feet in length. The dinosaur took 80,020 bricks and months of planning and execution to complete.

A former corporate lawyer, Sawaya has been creating pieces since 2002, though he did build a life-size dog from Lego bricks as a child when his parents refused to purchase him a real one. Fast-forward to 2017, and his The Art of the Brick exhibit has reached more than 80 cities worldwide. The artist advises visitors who wish to master Lego sculpture to practice often and let creativity lead the way. 

“I’m a full time artist who plays with Lego bricks all day,” he says. “It’s the best job in the world.”

After The Art of the Brick leaves Tampa, a commissioned piece Sawaya created for the city will remain in The Brick Yard. Zeus is a towering blue figure wielding a lightning bolt -- a nod, Vinik says, to both the Tampa Bay Lightning and the city’s distinction as the lightning capital of the world.

To see The Art of The Brick, visit Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., June 23 till Sept. 4 at 802 E. Whiting St. No tickets or reservations are required. Just show up ready to have fun! And don’t forget to visit the tubs brimming with LEGOs after touring.

Read more articles by Amy Hammond.

Amy Hammond is a freelance writer and author of children’s books that encourage the next generation to attend college. When not indoctrinating youth about the necessity of higher education, she enjoys exploring the paradise that is her St. Petersburg home. She holds a degree in Public Relations from the University of Florida and a Masters in Secondary English Education from the University of South Florida. Her work has appeared in such venues as the Tampa Bay Times. Children’s Book Titles by Amy Hammond include: When I Grow Up, I’ll Be a Gator; When I Grow Up, I’ll Be a ‘Nole; When I Grow Up, I’ll Be a Bull; When I Grow Up, I’m Bama Bound; When I Grow Up, I’ll Be a Tiger.
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