Children’s creative learning through the art of César Baldaccini

This post looks at the art of French sculptor, César Baldaccini. I discuss two of his experimental artistic processes: compression and expansion to consider how these could be used as a starting point for children’s creative learning through material play. 

‘Giallo Naxos 594’ (1998). Compressed automobile, painted street metal.

This month I will be exploring the work of four artists who have experimented with materials in innovative ways. I will also use each blog post to consider how these processes can be used as a rich starting point for children’s creative learning through play with material. First up is César Baldaccini. Last weekend I saw César’s retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Admittedly I had never heard of him before going to the art museum. I loved learning about his prolific artistic career and unusual ways of working with materials. I hope you find his radical artistic processes as inspiring as I did.

César Baldaccini

“My sculptures developed in line with the possibilities offered by the materials and instruments.” César, 1959

César (1921-1998) was a sculptor whose work is associated with the Nouveau Realisme movement in France. The Centre Pompidou’s exhibition catalog describes his work as being ‘governed by the logic of his materials. The fruit of both chance and intention that is emblematic of the Modernist spirit.’ The artist produced and explored four key artistic processes throughout his career: compression, expansion, human imprints and envelopment. He used these techniques with many different materials including iron, bronze, fiberglass, cardboard, paper, metal and plexiglass.

Artistic process 1: Compressions

César investigated the production of geometric sculptures made from crushed recycled materials and objects. At first he created these sculptures through a free-form process of compressing metal together using hand tools. César then started using a hydraulic press to mechanically create his sculptures in a more controlled manner. Around this time he also began to carefully select particular materials, colours and arrangements of materials to crush together, creating unique sculptural forms. This video gives insight into the compression process:

César explored the artistic process of compressions with many different materials including metals, cardboard, paper, plastic and fabrics. Some pictures of these sculptures can be found below:

‘Carton (cardboard)’ (1976). Cardboard compression.

‘Compression’ (1961). Copper strips

‘(Posters) (Wall compression)’ (1976). Paper and glue.

‘Giallo Naxos 594’ (1998). Detail. Compressed automobile, painted street metal.

Using the artist’s process of compressions as a starting point, how can this artistic process be used to encourage children’s creative learning through play with materials?

What materials could children use to experiment with ‘compression’? Ideas: recycled plastic, cardboard, paper, plywood, aluminium and soft wire.

What art tools may children need to further support this? Ideas: Hammers, clamp, glue and water.

What artistic techniques may be needed to support this? Ideas: Stomping on materials, squishing using hands, hammering using a hand tools, scrunching, arranging and wrapping.

What vocabulary may be introduced to extend children’s thinking through the materials? Ideas: Form, size, texture, shape, density, hard, soft, arrangement

Artistic process 2: Expansions

César discovered that if he mixed polyurethane foam and Freon it produced a liquid mixture that expanded enormously. He would perform the mixing of these liquids as ‘happenings’ in front of a live audience. He varied the speed at which he poured the mixture to alter the shape, size and form of the ephemeral artwork. César later discovered that if he added a third ingredient, fibreglass-reinforced resin, that he could harden the surface of the ‘expansion’ sculpture so that it could become a permanent, physical sculpture. A video showing some of these ‘expanded’ artworks can be found here:

‘Expansion no.5’ (1969). Lacquered fibreglass-reinforced polyester

How might we use expansions as a starting point for children’s creative learning?

What materials could children use to experiment with ‘expansion’? Ideas: foam, water, different types of clay and paint (perhaps experiment with different consistencies of the latter).

What art tools may children need to further support this? Ideas: Plastic containers that hold liquids such as measuring cups and buckets. Perhaps the human body could also be considered a tool here?

How could the materials and tools be arranged in a way that encouraged the expansion of the materials? Ideas: A large communal area with lots of space for the liquid materials to run.

What artistic techniques may be needed to support this? Ideas: Pouring, measuring, mixing and setting.

What vocabulary may be introduced to extend children’s thinking through the materials? Ideas: Flow, movement, size, consistency, thin, thick, weight, hard, soft and size,

What other questions could you ask children as they experiment with the materials? Ideas: what does it mean to expand? Do materials move differently on different surfaces? Why does a material stop expanding?

Best of luck with your experimentation!

As always, I would love to hear your ideas and suggestions on other creative ways that these artistic processes could be used in children’s creative learning. My next post will feature the work of Sheila Hicks (who also currently has an exhibition on at the Centre Pompidou) to consider how her practice with textiles could be used in children’s material play. If you want to learn more about this topic, please also check out my Instagram account.

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