Victor Hugo Zayas is a Mexican painter and sculptor who uses guns recovered by the city of Los Angeles' Gun Buyback Initiative to create works that he exhibits in California.

The series of sculptures was made with weapons collected by the Los Angeles police and most had belonged to criminals, Zayas told Efe. "The Los Angeles chief of police gave me the chance to use two tons of them."

Born July 5, 1961 in Tijuana, Zayas emigrated to the United States 30 years ago.

He has been developing his artistic talents since he was a teen, expressing his vision in paintings and metal sculptures once inspired by astronomy and more recently by lethal weapons.

Five years ago he got the idea of making sculptures out of guns that the Los Angeles Police Department recovered from residents through a buyback program, but it was last year under Police Chief Charlie Beck that he was given four barrels of dismantled weapons to use in his art project.

"A lot of people think that the images are too strong, especially if they have been hurt by crime," said Zayas, who in the future will exhibit the works in the entry hall of the LAPD.

"The reaction has been very positive and sad at the same time," said the artist, who in the last two months has shown 12 of his 17 sculptures created with parts of handguns, rifles and shotguns at the Laguna Art Museum.

Zayas said that the exhibition in Laguna Beach was dedicated to the victims of crime and the guests included some 100 people who had suffered from violence.

Tears and expressions of relief were seen on the faces of those who had come to see the show, the artist said.

"The idea is that this group of sculptures should become a kind of peace symbol, because transforming something so negative into something so positive, well, people connect with that immediately," he said.

Zayas said the idea was born when Chief Beck came to talk to him about the interest the LAPD noted among young people at the sketching workshop he gave them in the low-income south Los Angeles area.

"One of the works in the show, a portrait made from 200 dismantled weapons that included shotguns and pistols and that weighs 300 pounds, is dedicated to my good friend Efrain Castro, who was murdered last year," Zayas said.

"My friend was a peaceful man, even timid, who was really in love with the girlfriend he had been going out with for eight months, until one day a man called him on the phone at his house and demanded to know why he was going out with his wife," he said about Castro, who was later killed by a blow to the head with a blunt instrument by the irate husband.

Gregorio Luke, curator of the Zayas exhibition, told Efe that he hoped the sculptures made of dismantled guns in Los Angeles would inspire sculptors and authorities in other cities with high rates of violence to work together and do the same.

"We see here that art is a form of alchemy," Luke said.

"It is a powerful alchemy that transforms, no, not base metal into gold, but something more important, which is death into life," he said.

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