Good morning! It’s Friday and I have a lovely post for you; I can’t remember the last time I was this excited about sharing someone’s work. Today, I present to you the much accomplished 31-year-old Chennai based artist Santhana Krishnan’s work. This is going to be a long one, so please brace yourselves for a colorful journey into the world of paintings.
I first saw Santhanam’s work a few years ago – he is my brother’s friend’s cousin. The door paintings were mesmerising, even then with my limited knowledge of paintings and artists. With over 800 paintings on mixed media and acrylic on canvas to his credit, the central theme of his work has remained constant: doors. Santhanam grew up in the quaint, little, orthodox, Southern town of Kumbakonam. Through his paintings, we get a glimpse of the conservative Tamil, Brahmin community, the distinctive houses, the architecture and such.
Most of his paintings draw inspiration from the traditional houses you see in Kumbakonam. Umm, on second thoughts, that may not true hold any longer. I was there in Kumbakonam last Friday (yep, I grew up there) and most of the old houses have given way to modern buildings and apartments. Some, like my grandparents, have retained the sloping roof exteriors with the thoon and thinnai but the interiors are none what one would have seen two to three decades ago.
On why Santhanam was drawn to doors, he says “My fascination for doors goes back to my childhood and student days in Kumbakonam. Growing up in the traditional Brahmin agraharams and spending years there made me ponder on the different worlds that existed behind each door. The way the light fell on the threshold, use of colors, materials used for the doors and walls… each has a tale to narrate of the house, its owners and their lives. Even the exterior surfaces of the doors have myriad tales to narrate,” explains the artist. (excerpts from an article published in Hindu sent by SK).
Can’t recollect ever having seen a Sholay poster on the walls. The STD/ISD one is a brilliant capture. A small pigeonhole kinda space in the verandah doubled as a phone booth in many houses for that extra income.
The huge brick red door you see in the picture below is a characteristic of many homes. It’s not the main door but an intermediate one that is opened early morning and left open all day before being shut in the night. This door is usually flanked by two holes on the adjoining walls to light lamps in the evenings.
What I love about Santhanam’s paintings is the detailing. With door acting as the main subject, one gets a peek into the entire home. It’s literally that way – in all homes, you can view the kollai (backyard) and tulasi madam from the front door. See the gush of sunlight in the center of this picture – those days, most homes did not have windows. Yes, no windows. The sunlight and air circulation were from skylight – no open but secured with parallel iron rods. It also served as one huge wash basin (well, sorta).
Santhanam paints on canvas and on wood that complements real installations of wooden doors.
The only view missing in the pictures above is the traditional kaavi (orange) and white sunnambu alternaing lines on the houses. Or, the criss cross patterned wooden facades in the verandah which helped the ladies of the house take a break from their household chores and get a view of the road without being visible. I’m sure Santhanam has them also in one of his hundred odd paintings.
These pictures were a trip down memory lane for me. When you look closely at each of his works, it’s much more than stained oil madams, greasy walls, gawdy colors, in the face ads and seen-better-days houses. Each door throws open a way of life that has passed down generations and generations in this temple town.
I loved them. If you liked them and would like to buy, please e-mail Santhanam at firstname.lastname@example.org