Santhana Krishnan has spent the last 18 years making more than 800 paintings with one theme: doors. Doors in luminous colours, in shades of bright blue, yellow and orange; doors within doors; doors that are flanked by movie posters and advertisements; partially open doors that give you a glimpse of intriguing interiors and tell tales of the lives lived behind them.
Highlighting a relic of south Indian heritage – the traditional doorway – his works take you on a nostalgic, vicarious and heartwarming trip down the enchanting by-lanes of the temple town Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu, where the artist grew up and studied art. Krishnan was inspired by the locality’s old, colourful ancestral homes, including his own grandparents’ house that boasted of 82 beautiful doors, and notes, “Doors are omnipresent and travel with us wherever we go. Growing up in the traditional Brahmin agraharams and spending years there made me ponder on the different worlds that existed behind each door…I used to cycle around town, looking at half-open doors and the way they were framed by light from backyards. To me they looked so poetic.”
His thresholds, whether painted on canvas or on wooden models of doors (complete with locks), are also a commentary and visual record of the changes brought by modernisation and globalisation on industry, lifestyles and aesthetics in India. Though none of his works include figures, with the exception of birds (often crows), Krishnan’s paintings hum with life and hint at the hands that shape life inside and outside these houses. Tulsi tharas in inner courtyards, milk cans, kerosene lamps, wooden boxes, clothes drying, faint numbers and letters on the doors give us clues about the inhabitants of those residences. Krishnan notes of his work, “I paint old-world doors. The kind of doors which are vanishing, which were always held open. Nowadays people use doors to seal themselves in, but my doors offer a passage.”