Gun sculptures are 'portraits of crime'

Guns from the streets of Los Angeles are taking new life in "Mi Obra," a series of sculptures by Victor Hugo Zayas going on display at the Laguna Art Museum this weekend.

Several years ago, the painter and sculptor was teaching drawing and painting to underserved children in South Central L.A. for the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena when he met Charlie Beck, the future chief of the Los Angeles Police Department.

The two became friends and Beck informed Zayas about the LAPD's Gun Buyback Program, where people can drop off their weapons to the department with no questions asked.

Four years ago, they came up with the idea of repurposing the guns into a work of art by Zayas.

Now, the project features 17 sculptures, 12 of which will be at the museum, that use broken-down firearms.

He calls the pieces "portraits of crime" and mentioned the transformative power of the program in juxtaposition with the use of the guns in the piece.

"The idea of transformation is something I find very interesting," he said. "To take a gun and turn it into something positive."

Zayas, 50, said he doesn't know if any of the guns in his pieces were involved in crimes, but it's hard to imagine that the weapons, many of them large firearms, were on the streets at one time.

"I'm most interested in the concept of transforming something so violent and something that can hurt you into something beautiful," he said.

It took Zayas only four months to complete all the sculptures, but he said he wasn't immediately sure what he would do with the guns.

"Mi Obra," which means "my work" in Zayas' native Spanish, is a retrospective of the artist's career. It's his first show at the museum.

Zayas is known for his paintings, which span from abstract urban landscapes to classic figurative pieces. His newest works, which he says are more expressive, will be in the exhibit.

His prior sculptures, which are based on astronomy and star-gazing he did in Mexico, are linear and abstract in form.

LAPD Chief Beck will be at Saturday's reception to support Zayas.

"The opportunity to have a major exhibition like this is quite an honor," Zayas said. "It doesn't happen everyday so I'm very humbled by it."

He will unveil his the gun sculptures to the media on Saturday, and his show will open to the public on Sunday and run through April 29. Zayas will also be at museum on Sunday for a book signing.

For more information, visit Zayas' work can be seen on his website,

Twitter: @joannaclay

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