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The Firm 

The curiously compelling rock cocks of Cynthia Plaster Caster

Wednesday, Nov 27 2002
The sculpture rises out of a wave as if inspired by the sand, water, and lime in which it is confined. The lines are fluid, supple, and strangely powerful, providing some physical evidence of a private imperative, as it surges into the ether, displacing the air in a frozen quest. Despite the chalk-white immutability of the plaster cast, it is bursting with personality. It seems to hold its breath and cock its head with playful uncertainty; elegant veins curl along its shank, infusing the cold façade with the warmth and texture of curious flesh. It is a masterstroke, both conceptually and structurally, and of its organic origin there can be no doubt. A small name tag sits at its base: Ivan Karamazov.

"Aesthetically, that's one of my favorite sweet babies," says Cynthia Plaster Caster, pointing to the plaster cast of Howard Jay Patterson, the Flying Karamazov Brothers' founding "member."

"There was more to him than that," assures Cynthia. "He was so cute I had to get in on the plating action."

When preparing a mold, the plating -- a British term for cock fluffing -- is a task more typically handled by a wife, girlfriend, or eager cohort, so that Cynthia remains free to carefully mix and monitor the alginates that will capture the raw excitement of the sometimes all-too-fleeting moment.

"She's really quite the scientist," says Harlow, a former member of the Cockettes and one of Cynthia Plaster Caster's most prolific platers. "Very focused. Very serious. Mixing and measuring and counting."

"We got to have all the real fun," agrees Iva, still excited about the prep work she did for cockney songwriter Anthony Newley 33 years after the fact.

"Yeah, the project kind of backfired on me," chortles Cynthia.

The project, whose genesis was an art school assignment to cast a solid object in plaster, began in the mid-'60s, when Cynthia (who doesn't use her last name, out of fear that her mother might find out) and her best friend Pest asked Paul Revere & the Raiders to supply something hard. While Cynthia didn't get a mold that night, she did get laid for the first time, and the Plaster Casters of Chicago were born. They made a portable casting kit and began haunting dressing rooms. It would be two years and countless shows later before the original famous dick was plunged into a bucket of goo for all posterity, but it quickly became the stuff of legend.

"Everyone expected him to be enormous," says 21-year-old Bryan Panian, making minuscule adjustments to the dozens of plaster penises trapped under glass in the ArtRock Gallery showroom, "but it wasn't that big of a deal."

Perhaps not by porn star standards, but by rock star standards, Jimi Hendrix still stands a full head above the rest, at least in the Plaster Caster lexicon. And girth, I'm told, should not be disregarded.

"The alginates are cold," says Cynthia in defense of her babies. "And people usually expect this to be a really sensual experience, but it's pretty clinical. My focus is on the mold. I usually wear an old shirt and an apron. Guys get nervous, you know. Two minutes can be a long time. It's really not as easy as it looks."

Far from looking easy, some of the casts make it look downright impossible, like the thick, fleshy corkscrews created by Hendrix bass player Noel Redding, Pop Will Eat Itself frontman Clint "Poppie" Mansell, and Muffs bassist Ronnie Barnett.

"Gravity," explains Cynthia, arranging casts of Peaches' oddly proportioned breasts alongside those of the inhumanly perfect Margaret Doll Rod. "If the flesh is soft and malleable the alginates can twist it. I really like the curved ones though -- they're kind of cuddly, you know. My sweet babies, all of them are beautiful, but they may not be an accurate representation of their full, um, potential."

Thankfully, some of them come pretty close: Mekons' Jon Langford, Jesus Lizard's David Yow, and the Bay Area's own Jello Biafra leave the teeming opening-night crowd fairly well satisfied.

"I came to see Jimi," says 31-year-old Kerith Pickett, "but I was pretty impressed with Jello. Made me kind of proud. Chock one up for punk rock."

"Yeah, but can you imagine being that guy?" asks Panian, pointing to an alabaster slug called Joel Coplon. "That was Cynthia's first cast; he was just one of Cynthia's friends. You can kind of see why." It won't be the last statement of its like this evening.

Despite the variety of forms proudly displayed in Cynthia's collection, many of her male admirers cannot look beyond the personal discomfort of "misrepresentation." Some of them beg for an audition, assuring her platers that, given the opportunity, they would do much, much better than their famed predecessors.

"Bigger is not always better," explains Iva. "Cynthia is not a size queen, she's an artist, and when it comes right down to it, it's all about the music. She won't cast anyone if she doesn't love the music. This is her tribute, her expression of love for rock 'n' roll."

"It's brilliant," says 35-year-old Donna Crossman, a super Caster fan who, along with her husband, waited tonight in a line that stretched around the block. "She's an inspiration to rock chicks everywhere."

Those who dismiss Cynthia Plaster Caster as a groupie with a gimmick might not agree with Crossman's assessment, but others who've seen Jessica Villines' independent film Plaster Caster probably know better. More important than the feminist rhetoric offered by art-is-porn windbag Camille Paglia and respectful appraisals provided by castees such as Wayne Kramer, Pete Shelley, and Eric Burden is the woman herself at work, humbly preparing her "sweet babies" for their first art opening in New York City. Seeing Cynthia comfort and cajole 5ive Style's dispirited guitarist Bill Dolan, only to gently deride him for not being willing to touch his own replica, is almost as good as listening to Momus -- the self-proclaimed largest cock in Britain (Cynthia tells me Simple Minds' Jim Kerr actually holds that title) -- liken his and Poppie's flaccidity to a form of post-punk expressionism.

But not quite as good as watching Cynthia Plaster Caster in the flesh, swarmed by a mob of fans while former Canned Heat guitarist Harvey Mandel nervously slinks through the crowd, hoping his own sweet baby has withstood the test of time.

Cynthia Plaster Caster's exhibit will be on display at ArtRock Gallery through Jan. 31. Plaster Caster will be available on DVD in March.

About The Author

Silke Tudor


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