Journey Home 6: Rehanna Chaudhri
It appears that I love a good story. As a child I loved it when my dad made up his own stories at bedtime, igniting my imagination and now I love reading to my own kids before they drift off to the land of nod. I love seeing how they respond to the narrative. I've always loved theatre and films and following a character's journey (Matthew Weiner, the creator of the Sopranos and Mad Men is king of this in my opinion) and I've even named my Room Service package 'Room Story' as I believe that even rooms can tell a story. This week on the blog I am excited to introduce Rehanna Chaudhri who I met at Catford Arts Trail, whose creative journey tells a fascinating story of how from childhood to now she's created her own artwork by using layers of hand cut paper.
Let's Begin at the Beginning
Rehanna grew up in Kenya where she was exposed to amazing colours and interesting patterns in nature and with her parents keen gardners, there was never-ending inspiration in her garden. She would spend her pocket money on plants so it's clear that from an early age that botanics were on her mind. At school she was always interested in art and even considered it for a career, but at the time she was advised that Architecture was the only option if you really wanted to make money from being an artist. Rehanna was aware though that her strength didn't lie in visualising things on the grander scale or imagining space so she ruled this out. Instead she looked to her other passion Biology and ended up studying Earth and Environmental sciences in the States, all the while keeping up with her art in her spare time. She worked in Forest Ecology in the USA after university and loved working outdoors (America really does have the most amazing National Parks) with a focus on climate change. After a while she moved to Cardiff where her mum is originally from and worked in the university lab considering deep ocean issues. From there she worked for Cardiff council working on how to reduce carbon footprints and she also met her partner James there who she later moved to London with to work in a similar role for Camden Council. A million miles away from American Forestry work she's now bringing all that learning down to the domestic level and it's in her spare time that she creates her layered paper art.
Where do the ideas come from?
Her work is autobiographical and is based on places she has been and her heart really goes into each one. So much so that sometimes she finds it hard to sell the originals! One of her first pieces was a tree landscape of white, greys and black which she gave to her partner James for their first Valentines day together. Her other early work is based on Cardiff and on the Millennium Stadium with its interesting geometric structure and design.
Also coming through in her work is her love of all things botanical. Some of her larger papercut artwork is based on her visits to Kew gardens and celebrates the diversity of plant life that can be found there. She contrasts the colour and senuous curves of the leaves against the geometric patterns of those vast and gorgeous victorian greenhouses.
Her house plants that she is so familiar with and who are like old friends to her also feature in her work and her home scenes are in fact an impression of her own rooms.
Why Paper Cutting?
We had such a fascinating discussion about how Rehanna came to realise that her abilities and strengths lay in the small detail of design. Creativity on the larger scale such as designing rooms or even painting isn't something that she has much desire to do. In painting there are literally unlimited hues to choose from but with papercutting the colour combinations are limited to the paper available to her. Knowing this has helped her create her niche and I really agree that having a narrower window of focus and limitation enhances creativity. Necessity is the mother of invention afterall. Rehanna also doesn't like getting it wrong and although there is a methodology in this art form and that it's incredibly unforgiving, she rarely feels disappointed with what she's created.
The devil in the detail
Where we differ (and this was a total epiphany to me) is that I have absolutely NO patience to be any good at this craft. I did partake in a papercutting workshop a few years ago and really enjoyed it but the patience and delicate care that is needed when working with paper isn't in my genes. I am way more comfortable operating on the grander scale - painting walls with large brush strokes or designing and imagining space (I find it easy being in a room and imagining different colours on the wall). Maybe it's my honed spatial awareness and previous experience of designing the layout of bodies in space and designing movement for stage.
So what is the method?
Rehanna keeps a notebook of sketches of all the things that interest her and then she draws the design freehand onto her desired colour of 150gsm paper. Then using a very sharp scalpel she cuts long the lines (without glasses or any magnification). Her kit is pretty basic as you can see below but she wouldn't be without her PVA glue and a tooth pick from a restaurant in Streatham which is the perfect tool for sticking and a glue pen which delivers a very small amount of glue at a time.
What about the Brutalist Architecture?
A lot of people would refer to brutalist buildings as concrete monstrosities but Rehanna sees something beautiful in these everyday sculpted and functional buildings. Maybe for her its the interesting geometric shapes or the fact that were erected post-war which somehow fits in with her retro decor style too.
And her home...
As well as having lots of her work on the walls reminding her of precious moments, her furniture and other pieces also reflect her style. The living room has a strong mid-century feel which Rehanna insists is James' influence but her more rustic influences make the room feel really unique and homely. A stool was made by her grandfather and some wicker baskets from Kenya make the room feel relaxed. There are also some vintage travel posters which are quite geometric and almost look like papercuts.
Upstairs there are more prints and artwork on the walls but these two stood out to me. The horses painting which she bought for a tenner in Crystal Palace was only purchased for the white frame but when she brought it home she then realised how much she actually loved those horses and wanted to display them in her home!
So how can I buy her work?
This is the fun part! You can go straight to Rehanna's Etsy page https://www.etsy.com/shop/samaki and order a print or an original straight way. You can even ask her (for an extremely reasonable price) to create a custom papercut of a cherished place. She absolutely loves doing commissions so if you have a location or a photograph of something please get in touch with her. All her details can be found below.
Her website - https://rehannachaudhri.com/
Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/rehanna.chaudhri/
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/rehannachaudhriart
To explain the difference in price, the originals are one-off and contain the original papercuts of layered paper. The prints are giclee prints of the originals which refer to the fine art digital printing process combining pigment based inks with high quality archival quality paper to achieve an inkjet print of superior quality, light fastness and stability. So unlike domestic printers pigment is used instead of dyes which produces brighter colours which mean they last much longer.
Meeting with Rehanna was a joy as we discussed and compared our journey of personal discovery over the last year and realised how our passions have come from our past and how what we're doing now is an accumulation of everything we've ever done and loved. It's something I have been thinking about a lot recently - how what we've studied at school and our passions and strengths can come back into our life as adults when we have the maturity to figure out what's really important. I love seeing this so literally, seeping through in Rehnna's artwork and know that she loves every second that she sits at her desk with her scalpel in her hand...
Thanks so much Rehanna (and James) for inviting me into their home on a cold and wet Saturday afternoon. I never take it for granted entering someone's home and taking photographs - it's a real privilege!
I'm also so happy that Rehanna has very kindly donated an ORIGINAL (yes you heard me right!) of one of the initial paper cuts and you can choose any letter you want. If she doesn't already have it SHE WILL MAKE IT FROM SCRATCH! It's an amazing prize and to enter you need to hop over to my Instagram page for more information (don't worry it's easy). Good luck everyone!
Disclaimer: All photography by me.