When the glass doors to “(Re)creating authenticity” open to reveal more doors, I grow increasingly curious. In different shapes, sizes and textures, each traditional door, half-open to allow a peek inside, leaves me unable to decide which to look at. K. R. Santhana Krishnan leans next to a life-size mahogany frame and my hands suddenly itch to hold its brass handle and step inside. That is until I realise I am looking at a painting.
The painting of a door of a house in Kumbakonam has glimpses of bicycles, crows on the terrace, a bright mitham, peeling paint and posters stuck carelessly on the wall outside. But the artiste says, almost with a sigh, “Now, even these are disappearing.”
“Doors are omnipresent and travel with us wherever we go,” he adds. And as I click my pen open he points out, “Your pen has a door too, see?” He wears a black T-shirt with three doors that reads: “I would like to help you. Which way did you come in?” I wonder how his fascination with doors began and he tells me the story.
It all started in the temple town of Kumbakonam where Santhana Krishnan grew up. When he was doing his Bachelors in Fine Arts he would walk through the narrow lanes and bylanes. “Most of the houses would have the doors open and you could see far in. There were three lines in turmeric painted on the bottom of the doors to keep away insects and bugs. Even milk accounts were scratched onto the wood. ”
Forty shows and 15 years later, his passion for doors is unrelenting as he shows me the little things that make each different from the other. “Some doors have two columns, others have three. In those days, they used stained glass or plain ones above the door to let the light in. But in the afternoon they would place usually pictures of gods to keep out the bright light,” he says.
His range of doors does not stop with those from South India. “I recently did a show called ‘Doors of India', where I featured traditional doors from Punjab and Jaisalmar among others.”
Acrylic, water colour and three-dimensional doors set in bright yellow, red, and blue walls that seem surreal and artistic allow Santhana Krishnan's art to hold on to a sense of reality even while letting him experiment. “I'm not much of a realistic painter,” he agrees, “I get inspired by things and create my own version.” His props (wooden door frames) are his speciality and Santhana Krishnan has his own carpenter to do them. “I give him a design and he creates a basic frame. It takes about a week after that to finish the entire painting. Since a lot of details go into every three dimensional-door, people love them.”
“You don't need to know art to appreciate my paintings. I've had people come and ask me to paint their homes. Once, I painted a door that I remembered having seen in Kumbakonam. A man came with his family and purchased the painting. He requested me to come to his house. When I went to see him, he asked me if I remember the door number of the house in the painting. He revealed that it was his home and that it had been demolished.”
“Someday,” says Santhana Krishnan, “I would like to build a house like in my paintings.”
The exhibition is on till March 13 at Focus Art Gallery, Bishop Waller's Avenue, Alwarpet. For details, call 98840 00055.