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Paper Worlds: Bhavna Mehta

Paper Worlds

By Rebecca Romani

If you’re looking for a simple yet elegant way to welcome the early days of the new year, you could hardly do better than a lovely pastry and the elegant cut paper art by local cut paper artist, Bhavna Mehta, now quietly blooming in multilayered panels on the walls of Bread & Cie in Hillcrest.

Mehta’s latest work, “Nightfall,” is a series of panels, each about 20 inches by 27 inches running the length of Bread & Cie’s side wall for about 25 feet. The charcoal black panels are delicately cut to reveal gardens of night mysteries: lovers kissing, stargazing, birds moving through the night air, families exploring the night world. The dark charcoal serves as a subtle background for surprising bursts of color on the throats of birds, on the shirts of the garden’s visitors, in unexpected corners.

The panels are raised slightly over off white paper and laid against an unexpected tangerine wall that makes the whole installation pop.

“Nightfall,” is very possibly one of the most elegant shows that curator Elizabeth Cumming has programmed at Bread & Cie in the last year.

Color on paper, of course, is not new, and many of Mehta’s multi-layered story frames make ample use of it. But these news panels in ‘Nightfall” mark a shift in both Mehta’s use of color and technique. The color comes not from additional layers of paper but from thread carefully drawn through to create the bright avian and human bodies in the frames.

Embroidery gives a completely different texture and it’s fun to mix the two materials. I learned about paper from my father and embroidery from my mother. It’s interesting to take away paper by cutting and add to it by sewing on it,” said Mehta, 49, in an email interview with Vanguard Culture.

Named Emerging Artist for the San Diego Art Prize in 2014, Mehta has been exploring the idea of creating worlds and images for cut paper for the last ten years. Mehta was a software engineer when she started turning towards other ways to express some of the more complicated visual ideas she was developing.

“I did origami as a child with my dad. Getting into cut paper seemed like a logical step after I took a weeklong class with Beatrice Coron at Penland in 2008, “ said Mehta.

At first, she made “very small (greeting card) size work,” but quickly moved on to larger pieces like large, detailed mandalas and story panels.

Mehta’s work quickly attracted the attention of museums and art centers.

“I was very lucky to get a couple of early breaks. First prize at the Dia de la Mujer show (2012), the SDAI annual show (2012) and a solo show at Noel Baza in 2013, “ said Mehta.

Originally from India, Mehta draws on a combination of visual influences for her intricate designs. Many recall scenes from her childhood while others reference texts and multi-layered interpretation of community-centered tableaus.

“I feel a lot of my work is about connection-with each other, with our dreams and desires, with animals and plants. Storytelling is what I return to over and over again.”

Mehta’s work has developed over the past five years to include layered story boxes, delicate mandalas, and word installations ranging from less than the size of a sheet of writing paper to impressive shapes more that five feet across.

“For larger installations, I create smaller pieces that are put together. That helps in fabrication, transportation, and storage,” said Mehta whose main tools are an Exacto knife, cutting board, and a drafting table.

Mehta is now working full-time as an artist and teacher. Constantly working on new designs and experimenting with new colors and techniques, Mehta has found a satisfying second career in the intricate patterns and negative space she creates with her blade. 

In addition to preparing for new exhibits, Mehta is also excited to share her skills and help others developed as artists. Mehta has led highly popular workshops through the Downtown San Diego Library and will be offering a hands-on class, through UCSD Extension starting at the end of January to teach students how to create two and three-dimensional works.

Click HERE to see more of her work.

Vanguard Culture

Vanguard Culture is an online media entity designed for culturally savvy, socially conscious individuals. We provide original interviews and reviews of the people, places, and events that make up San Diego’s thriving arts and culture community, as well as curated snapshots of the week’s best, most inspiring and unique cultural and culinary events. We believe in making a difference in the world, supporting San Diego’s vibrant visual and performing arts community and bringing awareness to important social and community causes.