The world opened up, as it so often does for a boy who’s coming of age, with the gift of a car.
This one was a red 1988 Ford Fiesta, and it belonged to Hetain Patel – a gift from his father on his 17th birthday. “A car is your first taste of freedom,” Hetain explains by phone from London. “It’s the first time you decide when and where to go.”
Now 33, Hetain makes his living as a visual artist. While considering the concept of mobility, he found himself watching box-office-busting movies. Inspiration struck. Most of his previous work had been video and performance art (picture a time-lapse of a bald Hetain, growing his hair and a bushy mustache to mirror the appearance of his father when in the 60s he was a fresh arrival from India to England). This time, he decided to try his hand at sculpture. He wanted to enter the world of his father, who converted vehicles into limousines and hearses. Hetain thought of his first car. The freedom it had represented in his life, and its connection to his father’s line of work, made the Ford Fiesta an obvious subject.
“I’ve been interested in this idea of transformation from whatever your life is to whatever you want it to be,” Hetain says. “My artwork is hugely inspired by my family’s journey, seeing what they’ve done before my very eyes. It’s proof that if you want something, it’s there for the taking.”
Hetain was unable to find his original Fiesta, but he matched it almost perfectly. Even the car’s unaltered license plate aided his message; it read “F346MLY,” a rough approximation of the word family. He and his father immediately set to work – unbolting, sawing, welding and transforming. “It was fascinating to rip that car apart and see under the hood,” Hetain explains. “The engine is still a wonder of engineering.”
There was more to this work of art than met the eye. Hetain chose to shape his Fiesta in a humble squat. “It’s not a warrior role – it’s a well-used car – and the art needed to reflect that,” Hetain says. “This squatting pose is one you see all around Asia and India, sometimes adopted by the lower classes. It’s a way you can sit down without dirtying your clothes. It felt like something important to acknowledge in terms of where my family is from.”
In a different part of the globe, Romanian-born artist Ioan Florea also found himself inspired by a Ford: a 1971 Ford Torino. “When I grew up back in Transylvania, we watched American movies,” he says. “We saw these big, wide, muscle cars.”
The Torino’s white surfaces reminded him of a familiar medium. “When you look from above – at the hood, the trunk, the top – it’s almost rectangular, like a canvas,” he says. Even more important, it was a Ford. “My main goal was to make a connection between the second Industrial Revolution and the third.”
Henry Ford, who gave us the assembly line, was one of the fathers of the Second Industrial Revolution. To Ioan, his vehicle seemed like the perfect symbolic bridge between mass production and today’s flexible manufacturing. With 3D printers, Ioan created undulating plastic shapes, and then transferred the three-dimensional image onto the car using liquid metal technology. The result was a rippling, super-reflective surface that may best be described as otherworldly.
In a way, the entire philosophy of the painter-turned-sculptor is a reaction to Henry Ford. “I’m a small, creative unit able to access these materials and technologies like a micro-factory,” Ioan explains. “A combination of software, 3D printing, and nanomaterials will make our society more flexible. Traditional manufacturing won’t be the same.”