Cheryl Paswater & the Importance of Being Playful

September 9, 2013 by


Cheryl Paswater has sprawled her double-sided 14×14” woodblocks across one wall of our intaglio studio, and she’s approaching her work the best way she knows how. “I’m about to try something I’ve never done, which should be fun,” she announces with a shrug and a laugh, inking a block.

Cheryl is introducing chine colle into her process: affixing to her woodcuts funny shapes cut from bold gouache-painted mulberry sheets. Trained formally as a painter, she’s spent the last few years exploring ways to translate what she’s able to achieve in painting and drawing into her prints. The effect of the chine colle is the closest she’s come to capturing the pure, flat swaths of color that are so integral to her playful imagery.cheryl2DSC_9204

“I had never thought about chine colle until coming here! It’s definitely changing some things,” she says of her Workspace Residency at WSW. “How I’m thinking about my work and how I’m working – it’s all totally shifted, in a really great way. You have to make room for that in your practice.”

Cheryl’s work explores a lexicon of deliciously mischievous forms that feel oddly familiar despite their lack of real-life referents. Recalling the spirited quasi-abstraction of Philip Guston, Elizabeth Murray, and Stuart Davis, Cheryl’s work playfully asks us to reexamine our everyday visual experiences. Flattened, layered, and stacked, snippets of her formal vocabulary get shuffled and remixed among her various paintings, prints, and sculptures in ways that create their own unique grammar.


What is this thing?” she asks with a laugh, approaching her work as a viewer might. “It reminds me of this, or this, or that. And it’s not this or that, but it also kind of is. So what is it? I want to take the viewer away from their reality and allow them space to be imaginative.”

So as her shapes flutter precariously in a space between real and imaginary, guessing the things they could possibly “be” becomes a game a bit like interpreting dreams – showerheads, igloos, fingers, ovaries? She’s heard them all. “My forms aren’t derived from real objects, but I do have visual obsessions, things I can’t stop looking at, that seem to kind of work their way in.”


And you only have to talk to Cheryl for a short while to understand the origins of the humor and playfulness in her work. From her early experiments with silkscreen (“I had no idea what I was doing. Most printmakers would totally cringe.”) to her two weeks in our etching studio (“I’ve been doing a lot of experimentation – even with stuff I hadn’t planned to experiment with!”),  it’s clear that Cheryl’s process is largely about immersing herself in the physicality of her materials, embracing the unknown, and learning as much as possible along the way.

“It can be really nice to not fully know what you’re doing – it frees you from knowing how everything is going to turn out,“ she says of letting go and experimenting. “I’ve been able to do that here; I can’t believe how much I’ve learned. And there’s a quirky magic in this place that’s been cultivated for a long time. When your work is all about play and humor – I get so excited by that.”


That spark even inspired her to also (somehow, in just two weeks) prototype a book she wants to make: a cheeky visual dictionary exploring the relationship between her forms and language – each shape accompanied by the nicknames Cheryl has laughingly given them in order to communicate about them with others. Once again, these shapes aren’t actually the things they’re nicknamed, yet in some uncanny way, they kind of are. Which is exactly the kind of dialog Cheryl hopes to create in all her mediums.

“Comical. Colorful.” She pauses for a long moment, and finally shrugs: “It’s playful. I mean it really is just…playful. You gotta have play.”

Cheryl Paswater holds an MFA in painting and MA in art history from the Pratt Institute. She lives and works in Brooklyn, where she is a teaching artist for Free Arts NYC and the Brooklyn Arts Council. Her dream artist tea party includes Louise Bourgeois, Squeak Carnwath, Agnes Martin, and Elizabeth Murray. Find Cheryl online at or @cherylpaswater. For more images from Cheryl’s Workspace Residency, click here