“This is just so awesome,” Deputy Premier Troy Grant says as he gets ready to open the world first Art Of The Brick: DC Comics exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, and it really set the tone for the rest of the morning. This stuff really is awesome. The DC Comics inspired offshoot of LEGO artist Nathan Sawaya’s internationally acclaimed The Art Of The Brick exhibition was announced at San Diego Comic Con this year, and kicks off on Saturday, seeing its world premiere right here in Sydney.
“This exhibition has been two years of my life, and I am so excited to have people see it for the first time,” Nathan Sawaya says, just before the opening of the exhibition yesterday morning. “The Art Of The Brick is a passion of mine. It’s creating art out of a medium that I find is childlike, but also can be a great medium to express myself artistically.” While his previous exhibition included works of modern art done in LEGO, this new one is very much grounded in fun, focusing on the heroes and villains of the DC Comics universe. “Batman, Superman, Wonderwoman — they are the greatest superheroes in the world.” Sorry, Marvel fans.
Deputy Premier Grant, surprisingly, proves himself the perfect guest to open an art exhibition that features Batman so prominently. Not only is he Minister for Justice and Police and Minister for the Arts, he also revealed that Premier Mike Baird’s middle name is ‘Bruce’ and his own middle name is — you guessed it — ‘Wayne’. Having revealed his connection to the caped crusader, Grant helps Sawaya to kick off the world premiere of the exhibition with what else but a giant pair of LEGO scissors.
It’s been almost four years since Sawaya’s artworks were last here in Sydney, and he’s certainly taken the time to build some incredible new artworks in his New York studio — with everything from statues of DC’s most loved superheroes and picture perfect recreations of famous covers to his pièce de résistance, a full scale replica of the Batmobile, complete with working headlights in transparent bricks.
Before you get to the DC stuff, however, there’s one small introductory room to go through, featuring Yellow, one of — if not the most iconic artworks from Sawaya’s collection. “Just like Superman, everyone has their own origin story,” Sawaya explains — and Yellow is his origin story as an artist. Of course it wouldn’t be a DC Comics exhibition if he didn’t link it back in to the theme, and the next gallery features the iconic artwork — as ‘vandalised’ by one of DC’s most iconic villains.
The entire exhibition includes over 120 original artworks — all done in LEGO, of course — spread across ten galleries, each with a distinct theme. The Big Three — Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman — each have a room to themselves, while other galleries focus on themes like the Justice League, the villains of DC and even some of the lesser-appreciated comic book characters. The five-and-a-half metre long Batmobile, which took an astounding half a million bricks to build, has a whole room to itself of course.
Although much of the gallery is a simple and fun homage to our favourite heroes and villains, Sawaya is still an artist at heart, and has included a number of more thought provoking and abstract pieces. One piece based on Cyborg’s origin story has a battered and broken body, with LEGO pieces crumbling beneath it. A surprisingly thoughtful and serene take on Harley Quinn stood out in the villains’ gallery — although let’s not kid ourselves, the Joker was the standout star amongst the villains. A larger-than-life model of his grinning face dominated the room, and Sawaya has even recreated the iconic and controversial Killing Joke cover on one wall.
Other standouts were a fun piece depicting Aquaman in the bath with a rubber ducky, a series of colourful cowls based on the ‘Rainbow Batman’ storyline and a model of Wonder Woman’s invisible plane. No, really. “The biggest challenge in building an invisible plane out of LEGO is that you have to use invisible bricks. Let me tell you, if you drop one of the invisible LEGO bricks on the floor, they are really hard to find.” Ouch.
“By creating art out of LEGO, it makes the art very accessible. This is a toy that everyone’s snapped together a few bricks at one time or another, and so people can connect to this type of art in a whole different way. They relate to it, because they’ve played with it, or their kids have played with it,” Sawaya says of his motivation — although the artwork he’s created for the exhibition certainly constitutes a whole lot more than just snapping a few bricks together. With school holidays fast approaching, you can bet that the LEGO exhibition will soon be swarming with children — but it’s one that any adult comic fan or even art aficionado is guaranteed to enjoy just as much.