Some of the Los Angeles Police Department’s top brass attended last Saturday’s opening at the Laguna Art Museum of “Mi Obra” (my work), paintings and sculptures by Victor Hugo Zayas.
The native of Mexico has lived and worked in South Los Angeles and witnessed violence’s toll over 30 years in his neighborhood. Along the way, he’s made friends among gangbangers, youths at risk of turning to crime, and cops including Police Chief Charlie Beck and Deputy Chief Patrick M. Gannon.
Teaching art to the former and conversing about violence’s scourge with the latter, Zayas went on to score an unusual coup: two tons of discarded guns that the LAPD collected through a buy back program.
Gannon and another commander, Andrew Smith, were among the curious looking at the dismembered, bent and fused weapons turned into sculpture. Still vaguely recognizable, (sharp eyes might detect remnants of an AK 47 and parts of a WWII era German Luger pistol) they have found new life as what Zayas hopes will become symbols of peace. Starkly elegant, they are installed in the museum’s lobby and main gallery along with monumentally sized paintings that bear historical traces of Turner and other artists adroit in rendering classical landscapes.
“I could not be happier to have this show as my debut,” said Malcolm Warner, the museum’s newly minted executive director. “The transformation of weapons into art is a magical thing. Victor Hugo has taken the most unlikely material–guns– and has turned them into figures and faces,” he said.
Zayas’ talent impressed Gannon, a 34-year LAPD veteran, who first met the artist in his cavernous studio. A year ago, after Zayas approached him about converting the confiscated weapons into sculptures, Gannon passed the idea on to his chief and was tasked with making it happen. “These instruments of death, and they are instruments of death, have been turned into a beautiful art form, a tribute to the 4,000 people who had died in the streets of Los Angeles since 1990,” he said to museum visitors.
A larger than expected crowd of 660 attended the opening, said spokeswoman Marni Farmer.