No, no, we haven’t been dropped on our heads here at Artsper! It’s true that upon seeing the work of César Baldaccini, his brutal compressions and his scrap metal sculptures, it is not obvious that his art is erotic. Although some works are well known for their carnal references, there are others for which the allusion is more subtle…
#1 His first sculptures depicted female bodies
Before he started creating compressions, expansions, and imprints, César considered sculpture to be a traditional artform and he looked up to the greatest sculptors. However, as he lacked sufficient funds to acquire suitable materials, he began sculpting with materials that were more solid as well as metal waste that he found in landfills. He welded, melted, assembled, and finally created “Vénus de Villetaneuse” and many other nude sculptures. Nevertheless, the use of junk materials took nothing away from the style and quality of the works. César managed to make use of these rigid materials to produce skin textures, some smooth and others grainy, as well as joints that were sometimes mechanical and were wrapped in flesh, taking the form of feminine and maternal curves.
#2 Touch helped him sculpt
It is widely known that César was a runner! He was very tactile and needed to touch the materials before sculpting. He almost caressed the material in order to shape it: “My imagination starts working only after I’ve touched something,” he said. This is maybe what helped him bestow so much sensuality on the materials he used… When he spoke of compressions, he even brought up a term used in the south of France, “esquicher”, which means “to squeeze”, and which he compared to “squeezing” a woman…
#3 He often sculpted breasts
Although sensuality is often very subtle in the artist’s work, César also produced works that are purely erotic. For instance, he made pendants in the shape of breasts (but also compressions) that were designed to be touched and played with. He also made a mould from the breast of a dancer from the Crazy Horse troop which, once enlarged, would almost look like a surrealistic landscape.
#4 His thumb sculpture is very… phallic
César’s famous thumbs are also laden with sensuality. He replicated them in several different sizes and using various materials. Some are shaped like lollipops! When enlarged, the thumb looks phallic, an attribute reinforced by the realistic skin-like texture and the fleshy details, but also by the imperfections.
#5 Sensuality of the materials
César managed to give his art an erotic appearance mainly by working the materials. His expansions, for instance, are extremely satisfying to watch; they are visually very pleasing. Whether smooth, pearly, gushing, flowing, or dripping, they appeal to the sense of touch and seem to expand and call for contemplation.
In “Suite milanaise”, his compressions are less violent and less harsh. The materials are covered with varnish, which softens the sculptures. As noted by Catherine Millet, the folds in the scrap metal become the folds of a silky fabric that covers a body…