Wednesday 4 March 2015

The Art of The Brick

A few months ago I took the Culturebabies to the fantastic Art of the Brick exhibition, aptly situated just off London's own Brick Lane. One of the best team toys that the girls can *sometimes* play with happily together are wooden blocks and duplo. Culturetot loves attempting to emulate her sister's creations and, when she's feeling benevolent, Culturebaby will even put up with Culturetot's sporadic demolitions or accidental tipplings of Chrysler-like constructions. As a second child, Culturetot has always been much less interested in baby toys and is fascinated with her sister's things. Consequently, through observation, she's already begun to build respectable towers and clearly understands the basics of building. Our antique duplo set also gets a great outing at gatherings of pre-schoolers, where, on many an occasion the children will concentrate for ages playing happily alongside each other. Inevitably these time-honoured classic toys, alongside playdoh, are the first architectural materials our children will learn to manipulate and I was delighted to see that an artist had recently drawn from them to illustrate the perfection which can be achieved from such humble materials.

The Art of the Brick exhibition, open until April, was a triumph of inspiration for little Lego lovers everywhere. The New York based artist, Nathan Sawaya, has taken millions of basic Lego pieces to create a travelling exhibition of over 100 huge creations from reproductions of classic artworks, to conceptual sculpture and even a giant T-Rex. A tour round this bewitching set of rooms for children and adults alike is a journey of discovery through the art of the possible. Sawaya, known for his interest in creating works from the most unlikely things, shows (in a medium that children can understand and relate to), that the humble Lego brick can produce truly iconic sculpture. Though a little tricky for children along the way, who cannot handle these deeply temping and accessible objects, reward comes on swift wings with huge vats of duplo to wade through, construct and experiment to their hearts content with the inspiration they had just received. We visited the exhibition on a gloomy Tuesday and, happily as prams are not allowed, we found the exhibition relatively peaceful and the play area had lots of space. Culturebaby returned again and again to certain creations she really liked (the shimmering swimmer in particular) and it was nigh on impossible to extricate the children from Duplo heaven until they had well and truly exhausted themselves. We are planning a second dose soon, in case we never get such an inspirational opportunity again.



Inspired by this recent exhibition and a couple of gorgeous books we have discovered for children about architecture, Culturebaby has been enjoying looking at images of real buildings as inspiration to create her own structures. She's particularly enamoured of sky-scrapers and regularly asks for my photography books of New York Art Deco propped up for her to emulate. We've also been enjoying (a gift from a friend), the quirky and amusing Iggy Peck Architect: a moral tale that creativity and inner passion cannot be suppressed and ultimately will out - to the good of society and satisfaction of the artist. Iggy Peck is a designer and a builder. From the cradle he was driven to create sculptures from any and all available materials... even nappies or food. His parents encourage him and he develops and develops, until he encounters a teacher who, through her own fears, will have none of it. Ultimately Iggy saves the day and is vindicated in his talents. It's a witty tale and a great introduction to architecture for little ones.  

We've also been propping up for inspiration, as the girls build, a pair of gorgeous books on architecture for children from Prestel Publishing. These guides are essentially designed for older children, packed with facts, photographic and etched images and biographical details. However, like many art books of their ilk, they have far wider application and ultimately great worth for the whole family. The images are wonderful for younger children, and the text is just as useful for parents wanting interesting facts to narrate. I learn from them as much as anyone and the digestible nature of a book designed for children often ensures any reader emerges with the pertinent facts and interesting detail. The pair are a great addition to any family's art bookshelf. Firstly From Mud Huts to Skyscrapers, by Christine Paxmann and Anne Ibelings is a quirky canter through time detailing on each double-page-spread in lovely sketched diagramatic form, a new stage in the progress from primitive dwellings to the homes of the future. This volume is complemented by the simple photographic guide 13 Architects Children Should Know by Florian Heine. Whilst the volumes are by no means exhaustive, and one could have a good debate about the inclusions or omissions, they are both simple and engaging, with plenty of inspiration for a wide range of ages. Open on any page, crack open the lego, unleash the inner child and get building...


The Art of the Brick Exhibition is at the Old Truman Brewery, off Brick Lane, London, until 12 April 2015. 

Disclaimer: We received review copies of the two architectural books from Prestel. All views, as always are entirely our own.

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