Cynthia Albritton, Artist Known as Cynthia Plaster Caster, Dead at 74 - Rolling Stone
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Cynthia Albritton, Artist Known as Cynthia Plaster Caster, Dead at 74

Renown for her plaster casts of famous musicians and artists’ penises and breasts, artist also ran for Chicago mayor in 2010

Cynthia Albritton, Artist Known as Cynthia Plaster Caster, Dead at 74Cynthia Albritton, Artist Known as Cynthia Plaster Caster, Dead at 74

The American artist Cynthia Albritton alias Cynthia Plaster Caster from her show in Bad Doberan, Germany, 14 July 2015.

Bernd Wüstneck/picture-alliance/dpa/AP

Cynthia Albritton, also known as the legendary Cynthia Plaster Caster — the alias that sprung from her plaster casts of famous musician and artists’ body parts, mainly erect penises and women’s breasts — died on Thursday from cerebral vascular disease and added complications with neuropathy, her power of attorney for healthcare and longtime friend, Chris Kellner, confirmed to Rolling Stone. She was 74.

What began as a college art project that fulfilled her “groupie” love for music became a decades-long work. Albritton’s first famous cast was Jimi Hendrix. She went on to document a range of musicians from different genres and eras, including Dennis Thompson and Wayne Kramer of MC5, Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks, Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys, as well the breasts of Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab, Peaches, and Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Her work spanned artists in other realms, including film.

For those that knew Albritton, she was beloved both as an artist and for her unwavering devotion to music. If you were lucky enough to meet her out and about, typically at a music venue in Chicago, she simply introduced herself as Cynthia, called everyone “doll,” and was as sweet as she was funny.

Jon Langford of the Mekons tells Rolling Stone he met Albritton the first night he ever came to Chicago in 1985 to play with another of his bands, the Three Johns, and they became instant friends. Albritton later cast Langford and Mekons’ Sally Timms. “She was our charming, witty, eccentric friend, but her artistry was serious,” Langford, who is also a renown visual artist, says of her “brilliant” conceptual art. “And she was a lifelong music fan and huge supporter of musicians.”

“She was a working class woman and she just created this thing — she’s a conceptual artist and she lived her life about this… this was her art,” Timms says. “And she called the casts ‘her babies’ and she had all this like language that went along with it all. And all the recording of the casts, if you ever see [in] the pictures of her diaries, they’re beautiful: They’re all drawings and then descriptions of how she did the cast and the numbering and everything else. She was so methodical about it.”

When it came to her artistic integrity, Albritton’s friend and former manager Mitch Marlow says she wanted to keep things pure and true and was concerned about “never selling out” even when she was late on rent. “She would never cast somebody for commission just because they wanted it,” he tells Rolling Stone. “She wouldn’t even sell to people that she didn’t like, even if she needed the money.”

Born on May 24, 1947 in Chicago, she began her art career in college when her art professor assigned a project involving plaster casts. On Feb. 25, 1968 she cast her first famous musician’s penis: Jimi Hendrix. She later met Frank Zappa, who did not participate in the artwork but did like the concept, as noted in a 1969 interview with Rolling Stone. “It was the most fantastic thing I ever heard,” Zappa said of the Plaster Casters (Albritton worked with a partner named Dianne then) at the time.

“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 said, likening their work to neon sculpture. Albritton, then 21 years old, was already viewing her nascent art career with a wider lens. “Eventually, I’d like to get other types of people,” she said. “You know, have a whole museum of casts. Wouldn’t that be nice?”

Zappa moved her to Los Angeles where she continued her work. Following her apartment being broken into, the two decided to give more than two-dozen casts to Zappa’s legal partner Herb Cohen to protect the work for a potential future exhibit. Cohen kept the art longer than what Albritton wanted, and it took several years and a court appearance for her to retrieve all but three.

In 2000, Albritton held her first exhibit in New York. A year later, the documentary Plaster Caster was released and the BBC documentary My Penis and I followed in 2005. In 2010, she ran for mayor of Chicago, as a “Hard Party” candidate. In 2015, her show Penis Dimension exhibited alongside the Zappanale music festival. Her last known cast was Lias Kaci Saoudi of Fat White Family. In addition to her cast work, she was noted for her impressive drawings, which were inspired by the musicians she admired.

“She’s a true American artist. I hope that people recognize that more in time because I think that’s something that’s lost because of the fact that it’s penises and so obviously it’s good click bait etc. etc., but really someone like her should be in the Smithsonian,” Timms says. “She chose a very unusual path. And then as a person, she was just such a sweet, gentle person. You imagine you’re gonna meet this very raunchy woman who’s super sexual and pushy and everything else and she would just emerge as this socially shy, gentle, funny woman who was just dedicated to try and cast rock stars’ penises, but the image of her and what you think she would be is very different to what she was. She’s a total one off, and there won’t be any more Cynthias.”

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