This story is part of a series on local artists at the Kent Art and Wine Festival on June 4 in downtown Kent, put on by Main Street Kent.
In 1932, Ole Kirk Christiansen, a carpenter from Billund, Denmark, began making wooden toys in his workshop. By 1934, his company came to be known as “Lego,” a word which comes from a Danish phrase meaning “play well.”
Throughout Lego history, millions of people have been introduced to the colorful plastic bricks, including Kent residents E.J. Bocan III, 39, and his wife, Abbie, 37. But unlike most Lego fans, this couple used them to build a successful business.
After hearing about Lego brick expositions while in college, E.J. decided to attend BrickFair in Chantilly, Virginia, in 2005. He was impressed with the community and became a fan. Four years later, Abbie turned his Lego hobby into a business, a joint venture they operate through two separate companies: Art on the Block and Abbie Dabbles, the former a platform for Lego painting sales, the latter for Lego kits and other products that they design themselves.
“When we travel to shows, we show off our art work, but we also vend. We have a lot of custom creations that we make,” E.J. said. “So, we make our own Lego kits, we make our own instructions, our own designs. We get all the parts we need for those, we package ’em up, and those are things we sell at events.”
Abbie said both she and E.J. view Legos as a medium for creating paintings and sculptures, and there’s proof of this on many walls in their house. The abundance of colors of the snap-together bricks, along with the massive array of shapes and sizes in which they are available, make them perfect for the creation of intricate mosaic wall paintings.
A painting by Abbie of Rosie The Riveter hangs in the dining room, and another painting of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” hangs above the dining room table – the first painting E.J. ever made.
Their Lego mosaic painting collection includes duplications of famous works of art by Andy Warhol, Mondrian and Van Gogh; fictional characters like Boba Fett, The Joker, Wonder Woman and Super Mario Bros.; and evocative figures such as Freddy Mercury and Taylor Swift.
E.J. and Abbie’s lenticular Lego mosaic painting of Marvel characters Spider-Man and Venom may at first have some viewers a bit puzzled about what they’re seeing, but when viewed at a 45-degree angle from the left, Spider-Man suddenly appears, and when viewed at 45 degrees from the right, his archenemy, Venom, surfaces. The illusion is designed with gabled bricks that have a pitch on either side.
In decades past, Lego bricks came in a box that had a user age-group printed on it, with a minimum and maximum that was recommended. The label had a maximum age that was below 18. Nowadays, none of the packaging has a maximum age. Instead, there is just a plus sign after the minimum age; for example, “Ages 4+,” although there are some that read, “4-99.”
“When we build artwork with (Legos), I feel like it’s a good connection to make for kids to see that it’s not just a toy,” E.J. said. “They can build artwork with it, too, or they can build sculptures. But it’s not just for kids, it’s for anybody.”
To see Lego paintings in person, E.J. and Abbie will be showcasing a variety of their work, including Lego paintings, Lego kits for kids, mini figurines, earrings, bow ties and other accessories, at the Kent Art and Wine Festival in downtown Kent on June 4, from noon to 9 p.m.