A Playful Takeover with Cheryl PaswaterSeptember 16, 2014
Brightly colored, angular newsprint shapes wait in piles on the large, wall-length table in the silkscreen studio. Workspace resident Cheryl Paswater introduces me to her various characters—“the reflectors,” “the airplane guys,” “the clampers,” “the crushers”—a dictionary of informal descriptions used to capture their non-representational, yet uncannily familiar forms. As I’m peering at the cut-out shapes in front me, I find myself developing my own nicknames for each, despite Cheryl’s direction.
“As the vocabulary continues to build, they do become these characters,” Cheryl says. “You do start to look at them, at all the things they are and could be.”
Teasing the viewer’s imagination, Cheryl’s shapes seem familiar, referencing the real, but refusing to be any one known thing. They belong to a playful world that exists somewhere between the representational and the abstract. For Cheryl, it’s vital for them to entertain this free space of imagination, not grounded by the weight of concrete referents.
Almost exactly a year ago, Cheryl came to Women’s Studio Workshop as a workspace resident in the etching studio, where she discovered the eye-opening process of chine colle. (Read more about her explorations here.) As her woodcuts became more complex, the new technique allowed her to introduce bright, colored shapes into her prints and further develop the concept of play throughout her work.
Returning from her busy life in Brooklyn, where she no longer has a studio space, Cheryl originally planned to continue her previous work in the etching studio and possibly test out the silkscreen studio. She had no idea that silkscreen would activate her work as it has in the last week. “I’ve had my silkscreen revelation!” she declares.
Traditionally trained as a painter, Cheryl was wary of the graphic nature of screen printing and its flat acrylic colors, which she thought might render her dynamic shapes lifeless. But working in silkscreen, she’s able to do more with her characters—rotate them, flip them, cut them—and able to do it faster, with more copies and more saturated colors. “It’s made the forms more interesting and complex,” she says.
Cheryl begins by hand-rubbing her original woodblock carvings on newsprint, which allows her to maintain the shapes’ dynamic lines and the trace of her hand. She then photocopies the newsprint onto translucent paper and burns the shapes onto screens to print from. And now that she’s in the swing of things, she can’t stop multiplying shapes.
Much of her creative process has revolved around adapting printmaking to achieve the same immediacy and physicality Cheryl found within her large-scale painting practice. “I need all these fuzzy non-boundaries,” she says, continually asking herself, “How far can I push this?” Unsurprisingly, she’s found herself returning to the size and pace of her days as a painter.
With the new silkscreen characters she’s getting to know, Cheryl envisions her imaginary world expanding to fill whole rooms in wall-to-ceiling installations and sculptures, commanding a different presence and attention than her individual prints hung gallery style in a row. As they animate a large physical space, she sees the uncanny multiplying forms having a more aggressive relationship to the viewer.
On WSW’s campus, Cheryl is staging a playful takeover, plastering a few hundred cut-out prints on a plywood wall at the new building’s construction site. Here, the multicolor shapes are activated through wheatpaste and wall space. Buzzing with a distinct energy, they pile up and tumble down the plywood surface.
The temporal and spatial aspects of an outdoor installation are new to Cheryl’s artistic repertoire. Working in two different studios and building a wall-sized installation of her silkscreen prints, she has a lot of parts in motion—and she’s not completely sure how her work will continue to grow. Throughout our conversation, she continually emphasizes the importance of risk and experimenting in her creative process.
“As long as I’m playing, the work is coming together,” Cheryl says.
Cheryl Paswater has an MFA in painting from the Pratt Institute and an MA in art history from Hunter College, and is certified in Fermentation and Gut Ecology. She lives and works in Brooklyn, where she is a teaching artist for several nonprofits and runs her own fermentation company. “I make art for people’s souls and for my own. I ferment to help people heal their bodies,” she says. Find Cheryl online at @cherylpaswater.