The artist who immortalized rock stars’ penises.
Cynthia Plaster Caster, who died earlier this month at the age of 74, was an artist unlike any other. Her chosen medium was plaster, and her chosen subject was the penises (and later breasts) of rock stars. Dozens of performers had their parts immortalized by her, as she redefined both what art could be and the performer-groupie relationship.
The project began when she—then known as Cynthia Albritton—was in college. Enormously passionate about both art and music, and often spending time outside of college as a groupie, she was asked by her art professor to do a project based on plaster casting. She combined her two passions but ultimately decided not to present as her project her first rock star plaster cast: Jimi Hendrix’s penis, cast from life. “My teacher wasn’t cool, so I chickened out,” she said.
Methods to the madness
The casting method involved both lo-fi and intricate methods. The plaster was actually a painstakingly-perfected mixture including alginates, water, and vaseline, allowing for both a detailed cast and an easy release, while the technique involved ‘plating’ the ‘rig’ in question—plating meaning sucking, rig meaning penis—until the mold could be applied.
More rock stars followed, along with other members of bands’ touring families—managers, road crew, and so on, when the bands themselves opted out. She told Rolling Stone: “The groups promise us, but they don’t come through very often. I guess they’re chicken.” She was taken under the wing of Frank Zappa, who didn’t get cast himself but loved the project, telling the same magazine of Cynthia and her then-partner: “I appreciate what they’re doing, both artistically and sociologically. Sociologically it’s really heavy. I’m their advisor to see that they’re not mistreated.” Zappa also invited them to join the all-groupie band he managed, the GTOs, but they didn’t want to—they were serious about their art.
Groupies of groupies
The Plaster Casters became famous, both within and outside of groupie circles. Songs were written about her—the penultimate track on KISS’s 1977 album Love Gun is named Plaster Caster after her, with the lyrics "The plaster's getting harder / And my love is perfection / A token of my love for her collection / Plaster caster, grab ahold of me faster / If you wanna see my love, just ask her."
Groupies—described as being more like a ‘road wife’ than a one-time hook-up—were treated pretty badly by both the performers they surrounded (Led Zeppelin once threw Cynthia into a pool fully clothed) and the press. A Rolling Stone cover story on groupies, featuring Cynthia, drips with contempt the whole way through, dismissing ‘chick’ after ‘chick’, but in turning her adventures into art, Cynthia took ownership of it all.
Anonymous muses and solo shows
While plenty of bands wrote songs about their conquests, Cynthia flipped it around, creating art out of them rather than being simply another semi-anonymous muse. Figures who presented themselves as untouchable and godlike on stage were suddenly vulnerable and exposed—one member of the Monkees got nervous and lost his erection pressing it into the plaster. “I was shocked and delighted to find that they were as insecure as I was,” she said.
She had big plans, telling an interviewer about her idea for “a whole museum of casts”. “Wouldn’t that be nice? A whole room full of pedestals and these things on them!” she said. “I’d like to get a common laborer. I’d love to get the President. Maybe a Zulu chief, too.”
That didn’t happen—oddly enough, no President was up for it—but after a break in the 70s, she continued her project for decades. While few of the names involved are as iconic as Jimi Hendrix—the drummer from Loverboy is not quite at the same level—it’s a fascinating snapshot of, essentially, two generations of rock stars. In 2000, she began casting female artists’ breasts as well, to be more egalitarian, and the same year she held her first solo art show in New York.
Remembering the artistry
She was a real artist—while the one-line version of her can make the whole thing sound like a punchline, she had real artistic integrity, refusing to go down the easy road of casting any band that was up for it to make a quick buck. She also never lost her passion for music and was a regular fixture in live Chicago venues until she became unwell. She died on April 21 following a long illness.
Cynthia Plaster Caster didn’t just immortalize the body parts of the performers she admired, she turned herself into part of both rock and art history. As her fellow super-groupie Pamela Des Barres put it, she was, “the Michelangelo of sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll.”