Antoine Dufilho’s Sculptures Playfully And Expertly Manipulate Iconic Designs
Photography by Mathieu Bonnevie
Deep in Northern France, a region with a rich history of mining and manufacturing, at the border where farmland and urban development meet, you can find the home and workshop of artist and sculptor Antoine Dufilho, who works obsessively to capture the essence of the world’s most beautiful modes of transportation. Dufilho’s layering technique adds a sense of movement to his sculptures, and presents these long-celebrated shapes with just the right amount of abstraction.
Dufilho is known around the world by car and art enthusiasts alike, and his work has been shown in galleries in Dubai, New York, London, and in automotive cultural hubs like the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles. Upon discovering his work, Jean Todt, the current president of the FIA and perhaps the most successful Ferrari team principal ever, ordered two monumental 1:1 scale pieces to display in his own private collection, and offered to become Dufilho’s ambassador. Todt’s endorsement carries more weight than most in the world of cars, and Dufilho has a backorder list several pages long to show for it.
He comes from a family of amateur artists, painters, sculptors and car enthusiasts, so it’s not surprising that Dufilho’s chosen this path, though the journey to get there has been an interesting one. His father—a Bugatti aficionado who owned a Type 57 and Type 37 before settling on a Type 35—would take him to various car shows around the country, and through the friendships they made at these events, Dufilho got the chance to meet automotive sculptors like Michel Collet and Emmanuel Zurini, perhaps the first sign of things to come—it was at the massive Rétromobile exhibition that Dufilho showed his work to the public for the first time, though he was already used to having his pieces scrutinized.
At university Dufilho trained as an architect, writing his thesis on asymmetry, of which some famous examples are the Sydney Opera House by Jørn Utzon and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles by Frank Gehry—buildings that defy convention and seemingly physics. This study of balance and the sense of weightlessness is clearly reflected in his sculptures today, which seem to float on their stands thanks to the use of carefully segmented negative space.
Recounting one of his classes, Dufilho had to make the clay model of a car which stirred up fun memories from his childhood. Soon after graduation, he was immediately disappointed by the routine grunt work he found in the architecture field. New architects typically work for an established firm performing mundane tasks, or design homes for first time buyers who are much more concerned with functionality and cost than the kind of blank check creative expression afforded by building scale models in school.
A little disillusioned, Dufilho channeled his pent-up creativity into sculpture, playing around with various materials and textures, particularly metalwork. With his father’s 62nd birthday around the corner, Dufilho decided to make a sculpture of his father’s beloved Bugatti 35, seeking advice from Collet and a specialty tool shop near his home. Dufilho still has a reproduction of the piece that he carved out of a solid mass of aluminum. He enjoyed the experience so much that he immediately set to work on his next project, a Ferrari 250 GTO. He wasn’t quite satisfied with aluminum however, and experimented using resin and silicon moulds. He eventually created a clay piece with moulds in polyester, which are cheaper and lighter. This allowed him to create several parts for each mould, to work with larger sizes but also to reproduce a piece several times. Dufilho emphasizes that it’s the errors he made which taught him his craft and style more than anything else.
Little by little, other artists helped him figure out the best techniques to use to refine his work. Dufilho’s first studio was on the second floor of a residential building, crammed with machinery that was too heavy for the floor, and gas canisters which could’ve been a serious hazard with sparks and welding equipment around. After having made several solid pieces and no major explosions, Dufilho then experimented with transparent horizontal tubes that gave the pieces more lightness, and added an element of dynamism and playfulness.
But the tube technique ultimately proved hard to build, and didn’t quite look right for the effort. Still confident that he was on to something by focusing on lightness and space, Dufilho realized it was easier to work with sheets of metal as opposed to tubes. These are basically laser-cut 2D pieces brought together to create an accurate representation of the silhouette.
Arriving at this conclusion was the genesis of the style he is recognized for today. Using his experience as an architect, he devised a structure which was an integral part of the silhouette of the car to hold the metal pieces in place and minimize the use of screws or welds. He also came up with a complex paintwork system for the sculptures using thermal lacquering. When you walk around his pieces, you sense Dufilho’s work is defined by his obsession with transparency. His art truly deserves to be seen in person, where you can walk around and change your viewing angles in real time, the pieces seeming to materialize in and out of view.
Nowadays Dufilho works out of a studio attached to his home, which he is building himself using shipping containers as the skeleton of the complex, staying true to his passion for metalwork. His main tools to create the sculptures you see here are a grinder and polishing machines which he sources locally at old factories in the area.
While fulfilling orders for P4s, F40s, E-Types, and plenty of 911s, he has also begun experimenting with speed boats. His first Riva sculpture mixes wood and metalwork, the slats of the hull resembling the lines along the belly of a whale. Dufilho also showed us the renderings of a piece inspired by the incredible Ferrari-powered hydroplane from 1953, the Arno XI (shown in render form above, below the Riva). After spending a wonderful afternoon in his company and with our visit coming to a close, Dufilho walked us back to our car, pausing momentarily to show us his gift to himself for the years of hard work; a perfectly restored Jaguar E-Type, grey with a green interior, his favorite silhouette of them all.