First-ever-interview by Bill Blake, aged seven
Why did you choose to use Lego to make art instead of paintbrushes or pencils?
That’s a good question. I actually had tried all sorts of different things. I’d done some painting and some drawing and I’d done some sculpture out of more traditional media. I’d done clay sculpture and sculptures out of wire. I’d even done sculptures out of candy where I used little pieces of candy to create larger sculptures, which is kinda like building with Lego, you use little pieces of Lego to create larger sculptures. Then one day I thought, why don’t I try to use Lego, this toy, but do something big with it?
So you kind of got bored with doing all those other things and you wanted to do something different?
I wouldn’t say I was bored. Because I was still enjoying it but I wanted to try something new and when I saw people’s reactions to it, I thought this is really fun. So I kept doing it and I kept doing it. People really enjoy seeing things made out of Lego, so I’m doing pretty well.
Are you playing or are you working?
I think I’m doing a little of both. It’s a lot of fun of course, I have a great job. But it’s also work sometimes because I have to make sure everything gets done on time. So it’s both.
Lego makes me think a lot. What do you think about when you're making something?
I suppose it depends on the sculpture, right? So if I’m working on a dinosaur, like that big dinosaur skeleton, I think about how it’s going to look and how dinosaurs are put together. Or if it’s a human sculpture, how does a human look. So there’s a lot of thinking about how the sculpture is going to come together and look correct.
Do you plan your designs on paper or do you make it up as you go along?
Both. I do sketch things out and get an idea. But sometimes I’ll just build it. Sometimes I’ll just build whatever I’m thinking of, it just depends. A lot of times, when I do what’s called representational work, that means I’m doing something in the real world and I’m trying to recreate it in an exact representation, like there’s an apple out there on a pedestal. I just looked at a real apple and tried to recreate it. So I didn’t draw it out because I had the real apple right there. But some of the bigger stuff I have to draw it all out to get a better idea.
I like making historical things out of Lego. What is your specialty?
I like making almost everything out of Lego. And I’ve tried. I think my passion is about making human forms. You see a lot of humans in the exhibition. I try and put some emotion into the sculpture. I do a lot of people.
I also do all sorts of things because I do requests from all over the world. People ask me, can you build my dog out of Lego or can you build a baseball out of Lego and I take those projects on from time to time. I have fun making lots of things.
What kind of historical things do you build?
I make castles and I make things like longships…
Like Viking longships?
Wow, what’s your biggest Viking ship so far?
I got a Lego red and black boat and then I made the decorated Viking shields and I hung them over the sides like Vikings did. Then I got mini-figures and used them like Vikings.
Oh cool, how long did that take to make?
About two days.
Wow, that’s pretty fast, pretty impressive. Do you need a job?
Maybe. I do want to be a Lego designer.
Yeah? That’s a good job to have, definitely.
Do you keep your Lego in a great big mess like I do? Or do you organise it all?
That’s a good question. I do organise it all. I organise it in plastic containers. I do tubs by colour but also by size. A 2x4 gets its own tub, a 2x3 gets its own tubs. So when you walk into my art studio there’s a million and a half Lego bricks and they are all in tubs by size and colour along shelves. It’s a little like walking into a Rainbow because you have all these stripes of colour.
I'm going to help make a Lego Colosseum next year, do you have any tips?
Do I have any tips? [Laughs] First thing you want to do is organise your bricks. Probably by shape and colour! When are you doing this?
I’m doing this at the Nicholson Museum at Sydney University but I’m not sure when exactly.
How big is it going to be?
About two metres wide and one metre tall.
Wow, that’s going to take a bit of work. Have you looked at pictures of the colosseum and have an idea of what it’s going to look like?
No, not yet.
That would be a good tip. Do a little research. When I’m building something and what to get an idea of what the finished sculpture is going to look like before I even put down my first brick.
My all-time dream Lego design would be an Edo period Japanese castle. What is your dream design?
It’s hard to choose. It might be that yellow guy tearing his chest open with all the yellow bricks spilling out. That’s one of my all times definitely.
I like the swimming guy.
You like the swimmer? Very good. He’s fun because you don’t see the full swimmer, you just see the top half and I sprinkled the blue bricks around it to give you a sense of water.
Because that’s what you see when you’re actually swimming…
Did you love Lego when you were a kid?
I did. I had very, very friendly parents. They let me have a 36 square foot Lego city when I was growing up. It was a massive Lego city. That’s where I spent a lot of my time.
I’ve been slowly building my own house out of Lego.
Really, that’s cool.
I built a Lego couch with a Lego version of my mum and dad. They’re watching a movie from a projector and I made a movie screen with a movie on it.
Wow, good for you. That’s really great. The great thing about Lego is you can build anything you can imagine. That’s why I love it.
What are your top three tips for a Lego enthusiast like me?
1. Use your imagination. 2. Build whatever you can think of…
And organise your bricks?
Yes and organise your bricks. And practise, practise, practise. That’s the key thing. I like to recommend building things you see around. If you see an apple, build an apple. If you have a ball, try and build that ball. Once you can build a curve, that’s the first step.
I don’t build things that are all one colour like you do…I just see a brick on the carpet and stick it on the thing I’m making.
Really? That’s exactly how I got started. So you’re on the right track.
When you have a problem with Lego, how do you solve it?
It depends on the type of problem. If I’m building something and it just doesn’t look right, I just take it apart and start over.
Or can you just make an improvement?
Sometimes. Sometimes, I’ll be working and see that it’s not about taking it apart, it’s more about adding some bricks to make it better or different.
So if you were making a human form and you ran out of bricks to make the stomach could you just leave a hole?
Yeah! Just leave a hole there with maybe some bricks spilling out…and people will call it art!
Bill Blake interviews Nathan Sawaya (accompanied by brother Thom)