Saturday 20 February 2021



It's worthwhile asking questions about the idea: why build van Gogh's Starry Night painting from LEGO bricks? Does this transformation do anything for the work other than promote LEGO? One has always spoken favourably about the wonder of LEGO, even when its pieces were more rigorously limited as a concept with its moral intent, having no army greens or browns that might promote war games: 'LEGO' is after all, an abbreviation of 'play well' in Danish. It is truly an amazing system capable of constructing just about anything from portraits to large-scaled animals, cars, and planes; even cities and cathedrals.

There is a LEGO model of Durham Cathedral being assembled in its crypt; maybe it has now been completed? It was a fundraising idea: a pound a piece to let one click a part into place. This model had been carefully designed, complete with plans and instructions for its parts and assembly. It is an astonishing piece of work that shows the depth of the LEGO idea.

But Starry Night? Here the LEGO pieces are trying to reproduce van Gogh's brush strokes as well as the image: see article below. A glimpse at the completed Starry Night model has one struggling to see a van Gogh, as one reads the LEGO parts and pieces just too clearly. Anyhow, why should a painting be converted into a 3D diorama, as if it might add something to the work?

The LEGO pieces in Starry Night

Typical dioramas

Vincent van Gogh as LEGO man - or is it vice versa?

Here one recalls John Betjeman's comments on a dance troupe's interpretation of some of his poetry, using music and dance. Sir John drily noted that he was impressed with the effort, but thought that it added very little to the work. Can this same statement be made about the LEGO version of this van Gogh?

One does wonder about the subtlety of the piece. The LEGO portraits simply amaze, and raise the question: how on earth could such likenesses be achieved? Then, one day, the LEGO app was discovered. In just one click, an image could be ‘LEGOized’: ‘pixelated into LEGO units’ might be a better description.

LEGOized van Gogh self-portrait

Frida Khalo LEGOized - see note on Susan Kare's work below

When playing with this tool, one is constantly surprised: who might have guessed that the image could comprise the juxtaposition of colours that one could see within the enlarged detail? What mind might comprehend this complexity without the tool?

Edvard Munch's The Scream LEGOized -
these bold diagrams are better viewed through half-closed eyes.

Then one wondered why Starry Night in LEGO looked so crude, lacking the astonishment latent in the portraits. Instead of just a grid of hues to assemble the image, Starry Night had become more like the cliché don Quixote made out of sundry black metal parts. Here LEGO was more than an assemblage of colour in an apparent effort to reproduce the image created by bold brushstrokes. Did one really read the LEGO parts as paint? Was there value in seeing a special Lego part used in an unusual way to try to give a different meaning to its reading?

Don Quixote

The LEGO parts of Starry Night

There was something trite in the modelling of the painting. One was reminded of those Victorian attempts to give true spatial depth to paintings by cutting the image up into pieces that then get glued onto different layers to give actual dimensional variations to what the painter was offering as an illusion in paint.

The LEGO work also brought to mind those befuddling vistas of town and country created out of fruit and vegetables. Here, one could recognise the piece as including things seen on a plate, while being asked to see them differently, leaving the weird association between seeing something to eat, and a piece of landscape, tearing the heart out of perception and understanding, muddling the enjoyment of both.

The pixelated painting seems to be a common challenge.
The results are not that much better, and vary greatly;
they are not much improved through half-closed or any eyes.

The LEGO van Gogh does much the same. One did ponder on the outcome of the assemblage, wondering what it might be like if the LEGO app had been used to transform the painting: would this process have given us something more subtle? What significance is there in trying to replicate the textures in LEGO?

More pixelated versions of Starry Night

Might one suggest that the LEGO work has a deleterious impact on our relationship with the painting by giving us a crude variation to recall when confronted with the power of the original, its astonishing skill at representing the glow of the firmament that becomes merely a shambles of plastic pieces in the LEGO kit?

All one can really say is that the LEGO work is clever and quirky. Maybe it would have been better to have left it at this rather than to grandly promote the proposition in the production of the kit?

One wonders what other masterpieces might now be created in LEGO? Picasso’s Guernica; Constable's The Hay Wain? One recalls how images became biscuit tin decorations; is the new idea the transformation of art into LEGO?

When praising the LEGO system years ago, one mentioned its rigour that gave the system its internal coherence. One wonders if the use of the system to recreate a van Gogh stresses this necessity by adapting a stunning concept to create trivia, thereby disrupting the stamina of the integrity, the relationship Sullivan referred to as that between form and function.

The LEGO version of Hokusai's The Great Wave seems to capture something of Starry Night that the kit misses.

There seems to be something 'trans' in this work that has become favourably fashionable; at the same time, it is now a position that is favourably unfashionable to criticise: but we do need to ask questions about these things rather than grab them with open admiration and praise just because they are oddly different; and just because of the numbers of the positive response. Maybe it would have been better to have put the whole thing aside as the silly bit of ‘clever’ nonsense that it is, and let the world concentrate on the delights of the real original: the amazement of the night sky that is with us every evening. We should learn to be content with this marvel and seek our inspiration from it as did the poet of old, and van Gogh:

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;

What is man, that thou art mindful of him?

Psalm 8:3-6 KJV

We need to be careful because we can become too familiar with things and treat them with a contempt they do not deserve.

LEGO Starry Night borders on kitsch with its cartoonish stylisation.


vincent van gogh’s starry night is being turned into a 1,552-piece LEGO set

vincent van gogh’s starry night — one of the most famous paintings in the world — now has a LEGO set, allowing builders around the world to recreate the 1889 masterpiece. created by 25-year-old phd student truman cheng, the kit was uploaded to the LEGO ideas website — a place which allows users to submit ideas for LEGO products to be turned into potential sets available commercially. after receiving over 10,000 votes from the public, the danish company decided to produce the set, earning the designer one percent of royalties.

‘one day, I was just playing with LEGO parts, and I realized stacking LEGO plates together in random intervals looks a lot like van gogh’s iconic brush strokes,’ cheng told LEGO ideas. ‘it was a good brain tease to come up with tricks and techniques to capture the look of the original painting. the brushwork goes into many directions in the moon and the swirling cloud, so there was some creative use of bracket and clip elements involved.’

featuring 1,552 bricks, the LEGO vincent van gogh starry night set reimagines the original painting in a 3D scene, with strong emphasis on the artist’s iconic brush strokes and color choice. clips and brackets form the swirling cloud; plates stack to form the hillsides and bushes; and curve parts build up to become the cypress tree.

in honor to the artist, a vincent van gogh mini figure is also included in the set, together with a paint brush, a painting palette, an easel, and a starry night mini-painting printed on a tile.

‘to me, LEGO is more than toys, it’s something similar to painting,’ cheng concludes. ‘I can express myself, create characters and sculptures from my imagination. it’s a very relaxing experience where I can forget about the petty troubles in daily lives, and get lost in my own imagination. yeah, very much like painting.’

project info:

name: vincent van gogh starry sky LEGO set

creator: truman cheng


There is an architectural series of LEGO kits. Reproducing a painting seems a far more challenging task, but the schematic LEGO stylization lingers, sometimes making it look as though a lot of effort has been needed in order to achieve the chunky, diagrammatic outcome.

The elegance of the architecture is lost with the bricks;
the importance of fine detail and its complexity is heightened in these kits that hold that quaint character of things made for child's play -
it is LEGO after all!


It is always surprising just how little information is needed to define a countenance. Susan Kare’s work is exemplary in this regard, especially her portraits of Steve Jobs.

27 JUNE 2021

Now Frank Gehry has his interpretation of Starry Night as a building in Arles:

The outcome is just as mysteriously alarming as the Lego interpretation. The first question is; "Why?"

30 JUNE 21