Mayfield Man Uses Lego Art To Show The Importance Of Math
Arthur Gugick, a teacher at Beachwood High School, has created replicas of famous landmarks and mosaics using only Lego
There are two ironies to Arthur Gugick’s work.
The first irony is that Gugick does not perceive his work as art, though almost everyone else does. (You’ll have to wait to find out the second irony.)
“I’ve never looked at myself as an artist, even though when people call me an artist I’ve learned to be gracious and say, ‘Thank you for the compliment,’” Gugick said. “But I have never looked at any of my Lego projects as pieces of art. I look at them as nothing more than a highly complex mathematical puzzle that can be solved with ingenuity and creativity.”
Gugick has played with Lego since he was eight years old. However, he only started solving his “puzzles” about 10 years ago. His first big project was a likeness of his former home in Highland Heights.
Since then, he has built smaller versions of dozens of the world’s most famous landmarks, including the Leaning Tower of Pisa, St. Basil’s Cathedral, Notre Dame, Big Ben, the White House, Angkor Wat, the Coliseum, Parthenon, Taj Mahal and more.
Gugick said his knowledge of math is invaluable when building one of his Lego landmarks.
“Especially with the landmarks, there is a ton of math involved,” he said. “So much math that I actually made my own software to help me build the domes. Many famous building have domes; and, to build a dome, is a 3-dimensional math puzzle.”
Math quandaries abound in Gugick’s work.
For instance, the Tower of Pisa presented a mathematical conundrum. The top two-thirds of the tower has 13 sides but the bottom third only has nine. So how does one fit a nonagon into a triskaidecagon?
Simple, if you know your math, Gugick said. He used a diophantine equation to make the two shapes fit.
And the tower’s telltale lean? That was also a matter of math. Gugick calculated exactly how tall of a wedge he needed under the tower’s one side to give it a 5.5 degree tilt.
Gugick guessed that each of his landmarks take about three months to build and the first two weeks are consumed by mathematical equations.
When he talks to his students, Scout groups or anyone else about his Lego work, he always stresses the necessity of math.
“If you want to be an amazing Lego artist, you have to learn mathematics,” he said.
Style, Math and Lego Mosaics
Gugick has created Lego mosaics of Vincent Van Gogh’s A Starry Night, Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory, movie posters of The Shining and Silence of the Lambs, as well as likenesses of Jimi Hendrix and Jerry Garcia, and many others.
While the mosaics also require math, for Gugick, they are more of an exercise in style.
“When you look at my mosaics, they’re not all one style,” he said. “For me, the most interesting thing is trying to come up with new techniques – new ways to put the pieces together to get either more color in a smaller space or get colors that are not typical of Lego.
“In other words, tricking your eye, bending the light, doing crazy things – that’s the interesting part of it and, to me, it’s still a mathematical thing. How the pieces fit together; how I can make it all work.”
Gugick has used the pointillist style to recreate iconic paintings of Van Gogh, Da Vinci and Dali. For it, he covers his “canvas” in square Lego first. Then he puts circular Lego on top of them.
Gugick used an even more complicated technique to create his movie posters and likenesses of Hendrix, Steve Jobs and more.
“Another style I’ve used is a true photo mosaic,” he explained. “Lego actually makes these very rare pieces that have little pictures on them – maybe an arrow, maybe a stop sign or it has the word ‘police’ on it. What I’ve done is take these pieces, put them all together and made mosaics.”
While, from nearby, one can tell the faces are composed of tiny images. From a distance, the photo mosaics look no different from a digital rendering or watercolor of Hendrix’s face or The Shining movie poster.
These mosaics are especially difficult because of the rarity of these Lego display pieces. Gugick guessed that it took about four years to collect the pieces needed to make his Hendrix.
This style involves layering colored translucent Lego pieces over opaque ones. It’s like using multiple colors of laminate over a single image, he explained. The eye combines translucent and opaque colors to make a new color.
“By using this technique, I was able to extend the palette from Lego’s 14 standard colors to more than 30 different shades,” he said.
However, one would have to travel to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not in Florida to see Gugick’s most audacious stylistic experiment.
Gugick created two Lego mosaics in which the image changes depending from where someone looks.
And Gugick is always experimenting with new styles. He keeps small examples of his unfinished experiments in his Idea Lab.
“The hardest part about doing a mosaic is not necessarily coming up with the techniques,” he said. “It’s coming up with the picture that will work for the techniques you’ve got.”
The Real World
Gugick’s landmarks and mosaics have been featured in The Washington Post, The Plain Dealer, Cleveland magazine, independent films and 10 of his sculptures are on display right now at the Cleveland Hopkins Airport.
However, he has a sense of humor about his fame. (This is the aforementioned second irony.)
In 2006, when Cleveland magazine honored him as one of the 30 most important people in the region, he was humbled by the accomplishments of his fellow honorees.
“One was a doctor working to cure cancer; another was a foster mom who had taken care of more than 100 children; another was an entrepreneur who had created thousands of jobs,” he said.
“They’re going on and each person is more magnificent than the next. Then they get to me – Arthur Gugick – plays with Lego.”
The supreme irony is that Gugick gets a lot of attention for his hobby, but he does the most good during his day job as a math teacher.
“I consider myself to be an amazing math teacher,” he said. “I’m sorry if that sounds like bragging but I think I’m really good. Yet, in 25 years, how many teaching awards have I gotten? How many times have I been written up in a paper for teaching math? And, here I am – playing with a toy geared for 8-year-olds and, because it’s an oddity, I get interviewed.
“I think what I do in the real world is more important,” he said.