BENGALURU: Artist Santhana Krishnan's mother's house in Kumbakonam had 82 doors, but over the past 18 years, he has painted more than 800, mostly in South India.
The 38-year-old, whose solo show opened at Kynkyny Art Gallery on Infantry Road on Tuesday, says the colours of doors and walls vary from district to district, ‘just like the dialects’. If it's red and yellow in Tumakuru, blues take over down south in Tirunelveli. And Chettinad’s ornate houses sport reds and greens, he observes.
“Shekhawati and Karaikudi doors are my favourite,” he says. “In a village in Chettinad, I found a door a single carpenter had worked on for seven-and-a-half years. Imagine that!”
Doors have held a fascination for him from childhood. Later, when college took him to Kumbakonam in the 1990s, he had to pass through an agraharam, he writes on his website.
“(I would see) the vilakku madams (niches where lamps are kept) stained with oil, turmeric and kumkum marks on doors...glimpse each household behind the doors,” he reminisces.
So each of the 27 canvases and wood-with-mixed-media on display gives you a peek into the house, and some beyond. This also true of his entire body of work.
“Because if the doors aren’t open, there's nothing,” he says. And because the artist thinks of ‘everything in terms of doors’.
“To me, a pen cap is a door, and so are eyelids. So you need to open one door or another — to write, to see the world,” he says, a couple of hours ahead of the inauguration of Doors to Infinity.
Moreover, many of these doors are disappearing, with ancestral homes being abandoned, he adds. Perhaps, when he brings them back to life with bright hues, he wants the houses to be loved and lived in.
Though vibrant, many walls are stained, with paint peeling off, as a traveller like him might find in a village today. “After layering the canvas with acrylic seven or eight times, I use a palette knife to scrape some of it off,” he says.
A cycle, a milk can, a kettle, a copper coffee filter and other such objects found in old homes — and thus in his works — are scattered across the gallery. “I want people to walk in here and be transported to their aunt's or grandpa's house,” he explains.
The media he has dabbled in have changed over the years — watercolours to acrylic to mixed media — but his subject has remained constant. “I'm not bored of doors yet. With these many varieties, I'm spoilt for choice,” he says.
Last year, the artist moved from Chennai to Kumbakonam, where he has a studio.
Doors to Infinity, at Kynkyny Art, Infantry Road, till August 31