Sculptor, Start Your Engines!

Motorheads, Sculptors, Art Lovers…All Impressed by These Creations

See how the precision of jewelers combine with artist Eric van Hove to create these sculptural gems

Eric van Hove Caterpillar engine sculpture

Not many would think of an engine as art. But then Eric van Hove is not like other people. Born in Algeria, with a father who was an engineer…perhaps it is fitting that van Hove’s work doesn’t fit any particular mold. But then, neither does his life: van Hove considers himself a nomadic artist. Even his art degree, a master’s in Japanese calligraphy, is not typical of a sculptor.

This sculpture was created over many months, with lots of help from artists from around the world:

With the help of over 40 master craftsmen from Morocco, and 3 masters from Indonesia: Wayan Lila (bone carving), Pak Rahim (abalone inlay) & Nyoman Budiasa (mother-of-pearl blanks inlay).

Materials used are often found in jewelry: malachite, silver, carved bone, ebony. The detail that these artists achieved is indeed gem-like.

Eric van Hove Caterpillar engine sculpture detail

Ironically, van Hove was never very interesting in fixing cars–despite encouragement from his father.

What piqued his interest was partly the socio-economics of cars and engines.

Buying them, running them, these ideas are core to what modernity is about. Engines in the 20th century have spread everywhere, even in the most remote regions, where a moped engine might bring water up a well. An engine is part of everyone’s present. Everyone can be included in it because they understand it.

Engines are in essence the sum of their parts. Some large parts, some parts and barely visible to the naked eye. And yet you need of these parts, fitting together correctly in order for the engine to work.

I was sensitive to an engine as a metaphor for the world, composed of many individuals and cultures of different shapes and sizes. But they need to work together in order to move forward.

Morocco is a land where handmade crafts still flourish. With this diversity of artisans, van Hove found a way to present African art to the world in a way far removed from the associations most people have. Be

Building a sculptural engine has other challenges as well. First, van Hove needed an original engine so he could disassemble it and recreate the individual parts. Negotiating with manufacturers doesn’t always result in success. Sometimes it takes an accident–quite literally–in order to find a salvageable motor.

Such was the case when he built a 6.0 liter Mercedes V-12. It survived an encounter with a tree in Latvia. Van Hove managed to get it to Morocco by way of Brussels.

That engine had more than 450 parts. The goals was to recreate them using craftsmen from all over the country, with as broad a range of techniques and materials as possible.

Nine months of work, with 57 individual craftsmen working with the original part rather than any drawing.

Eric van Hove V12 Laraki engine sculpture

In the end, carved bone married with wood, which in turn married with copper. All the different skills came together to create a work of art–and an engine that actually turned. At least for a time.

Because many of the materials were organic, such as cedar, these materials continue to move and grow. So while the engine doesn’t actually turn like the fully mechanical counterpart, it “keeps breathing” in Eric’s words.

One of van Hove’s future projects is an electric motorbike engine that will actually work. Many of the same materials and craftsmen will take part in this project. People create work that has tiny flaws–but it is precisely the flaws that make a work interesting.

Perfection can be a dead end of endless boredom. Imperfection can bring back stories within machines.

Read the original article by Eric Weiner on

All sculptures copyright Eric van Hove

Photos courtesy of FranÁois Fernandez, Keetja Allard, Lieven Geuns