L.A. Expanded: Notes from the West Coast
A weekly column by Catherine Wagley

knives 2009, Steel, wood and plastic, 36 x 60 x 24 inches. Courtesy Honor Fraser Gallery

In the new FX series Justified, a quick-to-draw marshal who wears a skin of coolness over his pent up anger nearly always shoots to kill. That’s the show’s conceit: at the end of each episode, someone is either shot dead or left alive by a carefully calculated hairsbreadth. The shootings are, of course, always justified. This would be a cheap shtick if not for the obsessive precision and confidence with which U.S. Marshal Raymond Givens handles his firearms; Justified tells the story, not of the law versus the lawless, but of guns and those who use them best. The inevitable deaths, never messy, stack up like side effects for the lawmen who, like virtuosic athletes, play their game too well.

That Robert Lazzarini uses weapons as the subject of his mind-bending metal sculptures is no small thing. A New York artist whose first Los Angeles show opened on April 9th, Lazzarini has mounted kitchen knives, Smith and Wesson revolvers, and gold-plated brass knuckles to the walls of Honor Fraser Gallery. The sculpted weapons in the exhibition, all mounted at eye-level and fabricated with brass, steel and wood, look like photoshopped distortions of themselves. Which is more or less what they are. The distortions have been precisely, mathematically executed by Lazzarini, using Photoshop and 3-D digital modeling tools, so that the fabricated sculptures, while wonky, present as perfectly as ready-mades. The gallery walls, which slant in a way that’s at first imperceptible and later insidious, add to the effect of the already skewed guns, knives and knuckles.

gun (iv) 2009, Steel and walnut, 8 x 9 x 10 1/2 inches. Courtesy Honor Fraser Gallery

Lazzarini plays with perception as shrewdly as Robert Irwin before him did, yet, while Irwin’s project could easily be read as one’s man’s dogged attempt to understand the optical and outsmart the sublime, Lazzarini’s subject lends itself to more of a pop narrative. Clint Eastwood used a Smith & Wesson revolver in Dirty Harry (though Clint’s was a Model 29 and Lazzarini’s is a Model 10); brass knuckles recall Nelly’s fifth album; and kitchen knives, especially eerily suspended like Lazzarini’s are, could hail from a horror flick as easily as from a Magritte painting. Yet no low-brow references make Lazzarini’s work any less smart and impenetrable. The weapons feel preternatural, like they hold some insight that makes it impossible for them to misfire. Each sculpture shrink-wraps the kind of confidence Marshal Givens takes from his holster and presents it as a surreal packaged good.

But what makes Lazzarini’s work most interesting is that, the more you look, the more the three-dimensions recede into two-dimensions. The sculptures become images, photoshopped mirages.  Their smooth, practiced confidence makes them unbelievable as objects, just like, eventually, Marshal Given’s unblemished aim will make it impossible for us to accept his heat-of-the-moment, spot-on shootings as justified.

brass knuckles (i) 2010, Brass, 13 x 16 x 8 inches. Courtesy Honor Fraser Gallery