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The Art of Law: Lawyers Turned Artists

Matisse self portrait

Admittedly, law and fine arts don’t sound like very compatible interests. How could a brain that masterfully analyses cases and legislation also have a talent for creativity? Surely the only art that legal types are good at is painting by numbers! Not so.

A surprising number of law students, graduates and lawyers have a knack for all things aesthetic. For some, it’s a hobby: painting, sketching and sculpting being the perfect escape from a mountain of reading. But for others, a creative life is more enticing than a life in the law.

Take the insanely famous painter Henri Matisse, for example. Matisse studied law and got a job as a law clerk. He became ill in his early twenties and began painting while he recovered. The creative spark was ignited. Two years later he ditched his legal career and never looked back.

Then there’s Wassily Kandinsky who was a lawyer before he took up painting at age 30. These days he’s better known as the father of modern abstract painting, and his works hang in galleries around the world.

Closer to home, Sydney artist Simon Fieldhouse is a qualified lawyer but has been sketching and painting for more than two decades. His connection with the law remains strong, and many of his works depict judges, barristers and street scenes from Sydney’s legal precinct.

Then there’s Nathan Sawaya, a New York corporate lawyer-turned LEGO sculptor. Yep. He builds giant, colourful sculptures out of teeny tiny bricks of LEGO:

Nathan Sawaya working in his studio

“When I was practicing law, I would come home from a long day at the law firm and need to create. It was therapeutic. Some people go to the gym at the end of the day, but for me, I needed to create… One day I challenged myself to create a large sculpture using only this toy from my childhood: LEGO bricks. It got good reviews and I was encouraged to do more… I would work a full day at the law firm and then spend my nights creating art,” Sawaya recalls.

“When my website crashed from too many hits I decided it was time to leave the desk full of papers… I left the practice of law, opened an art studio, and became a full time artist.”

Even if you’re dreaming about a law career, it doesn’t mean that you’ll never have an opportunity to express your creative side. “I know many creative lawyers. And even more creative ex-lawyers,” says Sawaya. “Lawyers who are still practicing have to show their creativity in different ways, be it their legal theories, or just how they dress!”

It seems unlikely that Sawaya will ever go back to the law. “The worst day as an artist is still better than the best day as a lawyer,” he says.

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