In his new book, Beautiful LEGO, Mike Doyle has curated more than 200 pages of the world’s best Lego art. From museum-ready sculptures to indulgent geek references, the book highlights the impressive evolution of the legendary toy.
“Every year this stuff gets more and more intricate and the technique gets better, so I thought it would be great to celebrate the merits of the medium,” says Doyle, who is also a Lego artist and includes some of his own work in the book.
A graphic designer by day, Doyle re-discovered Legos four years ago after visiting Legoland with his two sons and then cruising around the internet to see what other people were doing.
After a lot of research on technique, he tackled his first project. It was 2009 and the housing crisis was in full swing, so he decided to make an abandoned and decaying house. It took him hundreds of hours to complete, but he was hooked. Now he spends months building larger and larger houses that have an increasing amount of detail and several hundred thousand pieces.
The appeal for Doyle is the ability to “go beyond the medium.” At some point, he says Legos stop being the subject, and instead just become a tool. Like a painter seeing beyond the paint to envision the painting. He calls it a kind of “transcendence.”
Much of the other art in Beautiful LEGO also breaks boundaries, not getting hung up on the bricks themselves. One artist, Nathan Sawaya, uses Legos to create Dali-esque statues that are intricate and perception-bending. Katie Walker builds mosaics like the kinds you might see on the floor of the Alhambra in Spain.
Earlier this year Lego built a life-sized Star Wars X-Wing fighter from 5,335,200 individual bricks. It was 11 feet tall, 43 feet long 44 feet wide, and weighed almost 46,000 pounds. It was an amazing feat of Lego construction, but the artists featured in Beautiful LEGO show that finesse can be just as impressive as scale.
In his series CubeDudes, Angus MacLane keeps the pieces to a minimum but builds beautiful portraits of famous figures like Abraham Lincoln, Smokey Bear or Spock. Like clever 8-bit art, MacLane boils these figures down to their essence and in doing so makes them immediately recognizable. The same is true for Thomas Poulsom who builds simple but elegant birds and for the artist known as MisaQa, who made an entire series of snails with just a handful of pieces.
On the technical side, there are artists like Dennis Glaasker, who builds chrome-covered replicas of Harley Davidsons and old hot rods that would make car and motorcycle enthusiasts drool. Arthur Gugick has taken on the gargantuan task of using Legos to recreate historical and fictional structures like Angkor Wat or the Tower of Babel.
Doyle called for submissions from around the world. Since he couldn’t send a photographer everywhere, he asked artists to submit their own photos, which he then cleaned up.
“I often brought in a colored backdrop which gave it an atmosphere and created a uniform look,” he says.
For Doyle, photography is essential to his Lego art because his creations are often just temporary. He’ll build them, make a nice photograph and then tear them down so he can start on the next. This is because large structures can get exorbitantly expensive. He buys his pieces used online at Bricklink.com (an eBay for Legos) but each one costs between five and ten cents and you can do the math if each house features several thousand bricks.
Doyle says the book, which is out now, is by no means completely comprehensive, just his view of the contemporary Lego art world. It acts as a historical document, and judging by the breakneck pace of Lego art, it will be quickly outdated.
“Every year we get to see a new bunch of works that supersede the previous ones in terms of detail and technique thanks to the online exchange of ideas,” he says.