Artist builds LEGO scene for a modern day Seattle, with iconic buildings — and tents on the streets

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“Homeless in Seattle,” A LEGO skyline creation by artist Iain Heath. (Flickr Photo / Ochre Jelly)

As an artist working with LEGO bricks, Iain Heath has created pieces that capture iconic figures of popular culture and slices of movie and TV history. His latest work goes a little darker than “Star Wars” or “Lord of the Rings” and offers a commentary on modern day Seattle.

Originally from the United Kingdom, Heath, 51, has lived in Seattle for 21 years, and his kids were born in the city. A veteran of the software industry, Heath was an early employee of Tableau, the Seattle-based data visualization company.

Heath, who goes by Ochre Jelly on Flickr, gave up his day job about five years ago to focus full time on his LEGO art. He’s active in the adult LEGO fan community, he exhibits at conventions around the country — including Seattle’s BrickCon — and is a member of SeaLUG, a local LEGO club which is one of the largest in the U.S.

His art includes many parodies of pop culture, including pieces which have gained him some recognition. A model of the late physicist Stephen Hawking is widely known, and his recreation of Ellen DeGeneres’ Oscar group selfie was featured on her talk show.

Stephen Hawking, by Iain Heath. (Flickr Photo / Ochre Jelly)
Ellen DeGeneres showing off Iain Heath’s Oscar selfie LEGO creation on her show. (Flickr Photo / Ochre Jelly)

“Because LEGO bricks are mostly rectilinear, many LEGO artists focus on vehicles and buildings,” Heath told GeekWire via email this week. “But I prefer the challenge of recreating people and creatures, and infusing them with my rather edgy sense of humor.”

That edge is evident in “Homeless in Seattle,” a piece Heath shared on Flickr and Reddit, which shows the Seattle skyline in a style that is a direct parody of LEGO’s popular range of city skyline sets. Along with the Space Needle, Pike Place Market, Smith Tower and Columbia Tower, Heath placed tents all over the urban landscape.

“The Seattle skyline creation was intended as a comment on the current homelessness crisis, which I witness on a daily basis,” he said.

The model uses a few hundred bricks and Heath applied box art and stickers digitally for speed.

“With the explosive growth of Amazon in recent years, the Emerald City is experiencing a new boom,” Heath wrote in the description of the model on Flickr. “Everything here is surging: the economy, the population, house prices, and consequently homelessness.”

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Iain Heath, surrounded by LEGO bricks. (Photo courtesy of Iain Heath)

Heath said that as a Brit his politics lean toward the left end of the spectrum compared to many natives and he doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to Amazon and his belief that the tech giant could be doing more in the city where it has grown so rapidly. His Flickr post mentions the City of Seattle’s recently imposed head tax on big businesses.

“I favor the idea of a taxing wealthier companies, and was galled by Amazon’s reaction,” Heath told GeekWire. “I feel we have to do something in the short term to address this issue, though it seems our skyrocketing house prices are the longer term factor. I hope the tax is not repealed. It’s a drop in the ocean for companies like Amazon, after all.”

By Tuesday morning, as it appeared that the City Council was setting up to vote to repeal the month-old proposal, Heath recognized the irony in the timing of his model.

“I’d better buy more tent bricks,” he said.

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