Building a Lego castle or spaceship is a fun activity for kids, but a sculptor Sean Kenny turned his childhood hobby into a full-time career. The award-winning artist has created Lego masterpieces for the past 15 years.
His current exhibition,Pop nature!” at Zoo Atlanta, includes 40 larger-than-life sculptures of plants and animals.
Kenney joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to talk about his lifelong love for building Lego.
Highlights of the interview follow below.
The art and science of playing with blocks:
“Every sculpture I create starts with an idea or a design. If I’m going to create a sculpture of, say, a polar bear, honestly the first thing I think of is, well, I don’t know enough about polar bears. Let me go online and look at pictures. Let me watch videos and watch how they behave together and start to get ideas of what I might want this sculpture to do,” Kenney explained. “Is it a mom and a baby? Is it something that hunts?
He continued, “Then I start the process to try to figure out how to make it with tens of thousands of Lego pieces. The first thing I do is I’ll usually model it on the computer in 3D, so I can get an idea of its size, weight, or how difficult it is to move. And then once I have that, I start creating a digital diagram, almost like an architectural blueprint of what I want this sculpture to look like with Lego pieces… I’ve now found out that there is a software available, much like Minecraft, which game where children can build with small cubes.
Achieve emotional power and natural gestures with Lego:
“One of the hardest parts of using small plastic squares to create soft organic elements is exactly that. I’ve been building and playing with Lego for so long that I can almost see things in my head. like Lego bricks,” says Kenny. “Of course, we’re all familiar with squares and rectangles, and those are the easiest ways to create large, curved shapes. But when I get to, say, a face or a hand, where I want to get more detail, I can start using some of the fun pieces, you know, things that are slopes and circles and radar flats and shaped like coffee cups and wheels and windows and everything else, all the little parts you might find in a Lego set at the toy store. I have them at my disposal and I have nothing but what the children have.
On using the Lego sculpture to process a tragedy:
“When the tragic shooting happened in Uvalde, I didn’t know how to react. I was at a loss for words. I still don’t know if I can explain now,” Kenney recalled. “We’ve all felt a pit in the stomach, and as an artist, when I don’t have words for something, I do things to express how I feel when I can’t express it any other way. And I immediately started drawing on my screen, digitally drawing portraits of these kids, and I did it as an active catharsis, I think I had to get it out of my system.
He continued, “I just wanted to show the sparkle of joy, the glint in their eyes and the love in their smiles because it’s so easy when you’re caught up in the national conversation about this stuff to focus. about numbers or shooters, or about laws, or Congress. And I just wanted to show these beautiful kids and who they were until that happened. And the portraits themselves are also intentionally missing parts; there are big sections that are left out because these kids are never done building their own lives.
Sean Kenney’s Lego sculptures are on display until August 8 in the “Nature Pop!” exhibit at Zoo Atlanta. More information can be found at https://zooatlanta.org/event/nature-pop/.