Sean Kenney used to work in an office on Park Avenue. He worked as cartoonist, a graphic artist and a web designer. And every night when he got off work, he’d let his inner child out to play, and often still in his suit, Kenney would build and create the things hidden in his imagination during the day. Now, Kenney uses LEGOS to create sculptures of high-profile clients, businesses and other venues around the world. On Sept. 30, his latest work, Nature Connects Art with Lego Bricks opens at the Cape Fear Botanical Garden for what will be a three-month exhibit.
Using more than 500,000 LEGOS, “there will be more than 27 sculptures arranged in 24 or 25 displays,” said Meg Suraci, Cape Fear Botanical Garden director of marketing. “As an example, there is a bison and her calf and a bird. The bird is sitting on the bison’s back that is three sculptures, but one display. The garden’s board of directors and staff are all excited to bring this exhibit to Fayetteville. Some of us have seen it firsthand already and are familiar with how amazing these sculptures are and we are excited to blend the art and nature and education in the garden. It will be a fantastic experience.”
The colorful sculptures spaced thoughtfully throughout the garden are not only intriguing to look at, each also has a related interpretive panel that makes a connection between exhibit and the natural world. The exhibit also includes activities for kids as well as grown up kids, hand-on building stations and design competitions, too. “I am excited to see the sculptures in our garden and that there will be other activities throughout the term of the exhibit,” said Suraci. “On opening weekend we will have LEGO mania in the Orangery. Also during the exhibit, we will have community building competitions. We will have a military-themed building competition as well as a nature-themed building competition. That will be fun for people to bring their work in. There will also be user groups coming and teaching some of the tricks of the trade.”
It’s been more than 10 years since Kenney stood up from his desk in a 40-story New York City skyscraper, took off his tie and walked out of the office in the middle of the day to go home and build with LEGOS. And he hasn’t looked back once.
Sure, LEGOS are fun. The bright colors and many interlocking shapes make just about anything possible. But there for Kenney, it is more than that. “I love that whether a 2-year-old child or a professional master builder snaps two LEGO pieces together, the end result is exactly the same... The final product is visually identical. I think this lowers the bar for entry and makes it more accessible, but also shows people that mastering the medium is more about using your brain and having creative ideas than about eons of honing a physical technique.
“I also love the whimsical nature of the results. The bright fun colors, the cartoonish nature of the final piece. There’s just something about LEGO that makes people smile.”
With structures list a hummingbird that hovers eight-feet in the air, a giant monarch butterfly with and eight-foot wingspan, a five-foot tall bumble bee and a seven-foot rose the sculptures invite visitors to used their imaginations make connections. “Fundamentally the show is about connections. Much as LEGO pieces connect, everything in nature is connected in an intricate balance. It is important to me that each individual sculpture attempt to illustrate some of these ‘connections’ found in nature, whether it’s a fox hunting a rabbit, a hummingbird feeding on a trumpet flower, baby ducklings following their parents on a walk, or squirrels raiding a bird feeder as the birds stand by helpless to stop them. Others showcase the beauty of nature … like a five-foot praying mantis. There’s also a life-sized lawn mower that visitors often mistake for the real thing... which is good for a laugh, but also shows humankind’s connection to nature.”
Like many artists, Kenney finds inspiration in all kinds of places and each piece is unique from inception to creation. He noted that the hummingbird sculpture popped into his head when he heard someone mention a hummingbird during a conversation. “I immediately had this vision of something that you could actually walk under, suspended as if by magic. Creating a spindly little nose and paper thin wings built out of chunky LEGO pieces seemed like a wonderful challenge and, if done right, something that would look amazing,” said Kenney.
He spent four weeks designing and planning the piece, researching images of hummingbirds in nature choosing the perfect colors and designing the internal steel reinforcements, then about five or more weeks building it. Kenney is proud of the fact that his sculptures are not computer generated. “When I’m designing a model, I gather as many photographs or drawings of the subject as I can, and then use graph paper or a computer model to plan out the basic shape and size,” said Kenney.
After that, he starts building a prototype with LEGO pieces, using his plans as a guide. He noted that there’s a lot of visualization required, and he often has to step back and examine the model from all sides as it’s coming together. Sometimes that means taking sections apart and re-building them. “Once I have a prototype that I like, I’ll rebuild it, glued, using the prototype as a template,” send Kenney. “Depending on the size of the sculpture, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. And if the model is something that needs to be uniquely recognized, I spend a lot more time making sure it’s perfect,” Kenney added.
The exhibit runs through Jan. 8. Suraci noted that “It is free with regular garden admission,” said Suraci. “Anyone who is a member gets free admission. A membership, if you plan to come once or more, will pay for itself pretty quickly.”
Find out more at www.capefearbg.org or call 486.0221 for more information.