Cheryl received a B.A. in Biology from Reed College and a M.F.A. from California Institute of the Arts. Her work deals with science, and the hidden side of nature it reveals. An unusual method is involved. She becomes immersed in the concepts and methods of her topics, sometimes going so far as to engage in basic research, in search of an artistic direction or interpretation. To ensure that it is nested in reality and refers back to the depth and richness encountered in nature her work frequently includes raw data.
Because each piece embodies the result of engrossed months or years of research, in one respect it may be compared by analogy to a reporters’, or a certain type of novelist’s, work: large amounts of research behind the finished product; in this case, rather than text, visual art. The results often have a singular esthetic quality, combining a sense of the naggingly familiar (reflections of nature) and the strange (images of type never before seen). Upon stepping closer the viewer may feast on delicate pencil lines; at distance the lumps of color and form relieve the detail of radars and electrode recordings into abstract color fields.
The works are aesthetic: they are an aesthetic representation of scientific worlds: worlds of data, of human striving and interaction. As Kant points out, one does not need to need to know the biological function of a flower in order to appreciate its beauty. The humor, the unexpected juxtaposition (even goofy), the seriousness, the obsessive attention to accuracy, detail and background knowledge are important qualities of Cotman’s work. Her visual interpretation or representations of the natural world revel in its inventive detail.
Through her art she interprets essential concepts in a book, “Big Brain: The Origins and Future of Human Intelligence” which has been translated into Greek and Japanese and featured in popular magazines. Cotman’s drawings have appeared in numerous scientific publications and her larger works have been shown at various museums and galleries including Norma Desmond Productions, the Laguna Art Museum, Oceanside Museum of Art, the Beall Center for Art and Technology and the Basel Art Fair.