Thursday, 19 January 2012

Knocking on village doors

         Painted in florid blue, flaming red, canary yellow and parrot green, Santhana Krishnan’s door frames ensconce a world of memories

              If one talks of the proverbial window to the soul, artist KR Santhana Krishnan talks of the door to life. “Metaphorically, there is no life without a door. Itis the most important component of our life, our house,” he says emphatically.
The exhibition ‘Travelling Doors’ showcases doors mainly from the countryside where one can find colourful and traditional designs not seen in an urban milieu. It is also Santhana’s first solo show in Bangalore. Hehas earlier participated in group shows. 
I started painting doors from 1993 and have continued to do so. The motifs on the doors evoke nostalgia in the eyes of the beholder,” says Santhana.

He has so far done 800 doors in mixed media, acrylics and 3D versions on real doors replete with locks. His fascination with doors was “bound to be” as he has avid memories of his grandmother’s house in his native village near Salem which had 82 doors. “It was a big house but so old that it had to be demolished. My doors have symbols and motifs that bring back memories for most. Maybe that’s why the doors are so popular wherever the exhibition goes,” he explains. The doors are painted alongside the traditional boilers used to boil water in rural households, tulsi tharas, cycles, sturdy vessels, aluminum milk cans, kerosene lamps and other endearing symbols of the past and present.
“In some paintings, I have painted faded, old and peeling advertisements that we don’t see now (like posters of the film Bobby, very old Coca Cola, Horlicks and Eveready battery ads. It is ironical that a village may not have electricity or water but their houses and walls are embellished with advertisements of Coca Cola,” he notes of consumerism in the land of have-nots. Numbers that appear randomly are in fact present with a reason on the doors. “Some are corporation numbers, ward numbers, electricity board connection numbers. For instance, P 26 indicates that polio drops were given to a child in the house under the immunisation programme of the government,” says Santhana. 
The doors document a glimpse of life from Kumbakonam to villages in Rajasthan where he travelled just to take a glimpse of their doors and in the process, their way of life. “As a young undergraduate studying at Kumbakonam, I would pass agraharam or the dwellings of Brahmins every day on my way to college. There were many old houses and each had a unique door,” states Santhana.
Ultimately, for this ‘door specialist’ the doors serve as a narrative for memories and recollections which he revisits in order to reestablish a lost tradition and heritage.  According to Santhana, his travels across India made him realise that within every state regionally, doors have their own artistic and cultural story to narrate. “I have painted courtyards of rural homes. I have shown people feeding crows before a meal and during rituals. It was a ‘must-do’ in our south Indian culture that is slowly getting obliterated in our present urban life.”
Jayanthi madhukar.............Bangalore mirror newspaper ..jan 16..2012

Travelling Doors will be on display at Kynkyny Art Gallery from Jan 23rd to February 9th.

TRAVELING DOORS an Exhibition of mixed media artwork by K.R.Santhana Krishnan

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Baa, Baa, Black Sheep

Baa, Baa, Black Sheep
  •    n.ramachandran
60 Watts Incandescent bulbs glowing yet, very dull in lit, mostly covered
with layers of dust settled unnoticed, surrounded by flies… oil soaked
newspapers, flows with the wind so gracefully to kill those flies, street filled
with walkers, Bullock carts, loading and unloading, randomly sitting and
masticating cows, with the smell of the many Provisional materials flowing
mixed together to form a alchemy in smell… misty bell jars closed with
stainless steel lids, with a variety of sweets, street lights, billboards, vehicles,
tables, vessels, dress, and many other materials they all tell tales… old god’s
images with turmeric splashes, some dust and flowers to adore them, faded
calendars predominated with the panjanghams, added life with the yellowish
tinge of the bulb light and dust… they have many things to show, give,
share, see, engage, and give our time to notice… each and every detail is an
Installation, each and every detail is in its ultimate grace, being… materialsman-
women-cows-cycles-dust-eatables-acids-dogs-space-wall, I see
distinction between them… but for them, there is nothing different from
themselves… they scold, they beat, they feed, they talk, they enjoy, they
mingle, they work together, every thing happens there, there is no
questions… only existence….
Yes, I can fill a whole book with comments about the experience I had with
them in the ‘periakadai veedhi’ (big bazaar) in an evening at
Kumbakonam… which had laid a strong trace in me… yes, they are living
installations, every material, every person, every transaction happening there
has an attitude to it… an experience to it…
Santhanam bring his experience of Kumbakonam or the other towns he had
experienced in his world, in his works with a strong belief of opening the self
to the outside space/environment… through his works predominated by
‘doors’. Though we proclaim spirit, as ultimate - body needs to be a vehicle
to explore the same… his doors are a bodily structure to get near his
The doors are just an element/an outer shell in his works, but this physical
entity in itself has lots to evoke… they open into the world, they bring new
things inside, they stop few things out side, they are inclusive and at the
same time they exclude too…. This metaphor has lots to add to the work in
itself than what he consciously intends. It actually blurs the contours
between things and makes it a comment about the ‘minds’ we have in the
contemporary landscape. While globalization and its mercenary attitude to
time cannot be stopped neither can one stop missing the aimless wanderings
of the childhood.
The main essence seen is his work is, he eliminates human forms and only
paints the traces left by the humans. These traces are always in the forms of
posters, written words, numbers, scribbles, advertisements, EB code,
panchayat’s coding, and spontaneous graffiti etc. but, in reality these are well
studied by Santhanam that makes the viewer’s feel that they are no longer
seeing a work, by transforming their mind to connect with their own
experiences of nostalgia or dwell in un explored spaces.
As an person, I have always been in constant debate with the fact that I
don’t see any thing in the world as ‘creative’, ‘creativity’, a difference
between Artist and a person in normal life, Art work and objects that we use
daily etc.. . A little experience….. “Have pav baggi and Masala Chai connect
with a Lufthansa to Frankfurt eat a burger then go to London- Tate- see,
Carl andre, Duchamp and Mierless then take an auto, go to Tanjaur
restarunt and have full dose of Rasam & Thali. Then come and stand in the
Meena bazaar street ‘Hello Baiyah aat rupyako Chiken Biryani’.” – it may
look like bizarre/post modern/some magic realism or some other thing, but
this is happening to every one but few observe and absorb the moment.
And another example is some facts we read in newspaper or what we hear
from others, ‘stirs inside’ us a space and creates lot of probable images inside
us, which are thrown out to create more images.
“ready to face PAC, Manmohan writes to Murali Manohar Joshi- committee
will take appropriate decision at appropriate time, says Chidambaram”.
Every one reads these same words, but each time/each one responds
Some critics want to bind and put the works into a sachet/categories but in
actual it’s not, each human have a specific way of seeing and connecting
with things. They are bound in many dimensions and they are not
complete, where as, we are pushed to define ourselves as a whole, as artists,
writers, scientists and many thing to add… we also hate repetition and there
is only one thing we can’t repeat, ‘the action of intentionally killing oneself’,
other than that, every thing is repeated. Even if we say that there is
something else that cannot be repeated, even that is just words and not
I leave open to the time and space to judge the work. But what is definite is
the ‘process’. Even this writing is being typed ‘here & now’ to make this
paragraph. And the ‘energy transmission’ that accompanies this substantiates
all action.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Creative threshold


                  K. R. Santhana Krishnan's paintings of doors of traditional homes give a peek into the past

                  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.” 


Sunday, 30 October 2011


“The concept “doors” was for me to give the next generation what is disappearing from today's world as well as to bring back memories for many. In this fast moving world, I want them to stop for a moment to recollect their past”. Santhana Krishnan.

Where an artists hail from and where s/he now resides are two of the most significant facts in the process of art making. Certainly the local history affects the appearance and meaning, since the places where s/he has lived with its attendant physical, historical and cultural attributes conditions what is known and how it is perceived. A conscious awareness of place informs the works of a wide range of contemporary artists and in this respect the recent works of Santhana Krishnan bears testimony to it. Hailing from the town of Kumbhakonam in Tamilnadu where he grew up and was educated as well, Santhana brings to his new series on ‘doors’ a greater awareness of temporal spatiality through history and culture. In his works time and space coalesce to contain symbolic meaning as the place intersects with time, to narrate the significant story of doors that had a specific character since it defined the social status of its owner. Through such an approach, Santhana is also positing the spectator within a collective memory to constitute a relationship with history and hence memory as temporal space.

The advancement of his ideas in this recent series of works is noticed in the treatment of side walls adjacent to the doors, appropriating the space as a canvas for the representation of popular culture. By recreating a strong tactile feel of the old withered or dirty plastered walls, and its surface painted with imagery derived from popular culture as film posters of the 70s, the ubiquitous images of the goddesses from Ravi Verma’s calendar art, the advertisement of ABT Parcel carriers or the Maruti Travellers with Hanuman carrying the part of the mountain containing the sanjeevani herbs, he contends with another art form juxtaposed in his work. The significance of these fragments of visual culture serves as pretty pieces of advertising within the rural space to produce titillating effect. This marks the progression in the visual repertoire of Santhana, which establishes for him the allure of the visual environment, and the everyday engagements and memories that people attach to it. Interfacing with popular culture brings his art into the realm of postmodernity and the representation of the sacred images is appropriated within the public domain, thus evacuating it off its aura to establish as popular imagery. The weaving of reality and imagination in the contouring of his visual language thus opens space in his compositions to foreground an aesthetic of shared common culture namely his realistic style and the popular art. Through these he is recreating a nostalgic space which continues in the present as his reinvented painted imagery. 

The viewer imagines that the door is the main protagonist in Santhana’s works; this proves to be contrary, since the artist is symbolically using an object like the door to convey deeper significance of lost memory and an art of craft namely the decorative doors. The ‘lost’ in the artists works marks the presence and hence moments of time and place. This implicates the place which is his hometown and the time reflects upon his childhood memories internalized within him, particularly the style and forms of the entrance doors of domestic houses, having passed it daily on his way to school and later to college. Through these works the artist is making a strong plea towards keeping fresh the memory of a tradition of craft, reflecting an accumulation of meaning with the culture theorists adopting the term space to refer to the social and psychological attributes of a place, as the instance of the doors of the houses which not only reflected the social position of its owner but served as a space to inscribe varied information related to the occupants of the house as the number, electricity details, vaccination dates etc. The significance of his doors besides marking a liminal space of outside-inside and protection-security, the artist is also gesturing towards the gradual replacement with contemporary designs and materials. Thus he marks the doors as a site of culture, reliving it through painted images that he recreates with a visual language of hyper realism to be placed as an object ‘past’ within a sanitized gallery space, transforming a mundane to a sanctimonious status.

Santhana’s art works comprises of installation as doorframes with one half consisting of a real wooden door and the other half a painted canvas stretched on plywood; and painted canvases of doors opening into the interior of the houses. Through the juxtaposition of the real and the imaginary, his works narrates the story of re-living in a culture of specific designed houses, where through a realistic visual language, the eye is led through a series of doors to the innermost part of the house. The interior space manifests the lived moments through variety of domestic utensils now either lost or made obsolete by contemporary life style. Reinforcing and extending the idea further his painted canvases convey similar sentiments and emotional feelings. Each frame of Santhana has a narrative voice implicating the art of a tradition through descriptive objects rendered with verisimilitude as electric fittings, copper or brass water heaters, metal milk cans, buckets, water pots, cooking vessels, tea pots, ceramic jars for storing spices and pickles, metal pounders with pestle, the tulsi tree planted within a traditional masonry container, the clothes line with sarees etc. The recreation of these quotidian domestic objects in use, integral to every household, has acquired valence as antique, because of its rapid disappearance from use as well as from memory.

In reliving the haunting yet nostalgic imagery of variety of styles and designs of doors, Santhana is also engaging with a slice of traditional culture. In recovering the gradual disappearing art of the craft, namely the doors and its doorframes; the aura of the ‘original’ is lost, yet there is authenticity in the application of certain elements that is reproduced as a copy such as the motif of the nagabandhanam at the lower side base of the frame, the design of grills or the patterned coloured glass. The tactile and appropriated forms of the doors though having lost its aura create powerful sentiments of a pastness though its presentness in his works.

An endearing quality about his paintings and mixed media works lie in developing intimate details that otherwise escape notice; for instance, the crows, the slatted underside of the chajja within the courtyard, the heavy uncouth locks, the disheveled pots, the hand pump or the lantern.  The painstaking process of rendering every form and its associative texture is truly admirable.  It should be emphasized; that for Santhana the craft of the art of drawing developed out of his passion to render experiences of reality as he perceives it. Since there were no distractions in a small town as Kumbhakonam his time was spent in drawing and painting what was immediately available as the domestic animals, houses and farmlands. He brings to his paintings vividness and clarity of every detail that articulates a metaphor of memory. The finer nuances that he recreates underpin the evocative nature residing within, compelling the viewer to a closer scrutiny of his interiors that offers diverse visually titillating narratives.  His colours also sing of the vernacular bordering almost on the popular.  The colours are garish with bright yellow ochres, deep blood reds, muddy van dyck browns, singing blues, ash greys, royal purples, deep pinks and blues and sun set oranges. The kitschy representation of the sacred icons above the doorways besides adding interest, belong to the popular surrounding the devotee every day. The kitsch idiom heightens mass appeal while emulating the world of wall paintings and temple sculptures.

February 2011

Ms. Ashrafi S. Bhagat M.A., M.Phil, Ph. D. is an Art Historian and an Art Critic. She is an Associate Professor and Former Head, teaching at the Department of Fine Arts, Stella Maris College,[Autonomous] Chennai.  She writes exhibition catalogues for artists and on issues of modern and contemporary art in newspapers, magazines and journals.