CHENNAI: Heavy wooden doors with lamp soot and vermillion imprints, door numbers, traditional locks, peeling layers of paint, faded walls and ancient movie posters quickly capture one's attention amid the artwork by K R Santhana Krishnan, known as ‘Door Santhanam.’ Working on the theme ‘doors’ has been his bread and butter for over 18 years. He travels and documents the heritage and culture of India lying beyond the doors, which according to him, is the entrance to warmth, happiness and a million secrets.
So, how did his love for doors begin? “My door connection goes way back to my childhood in Kumbakonam. I grew up in the traditional Brahmin agraharam and used to walk to school every day looking at the different doors, pondering about the life within,” he says.
Detailing of the scenes inside the house, through the door is his speciality. His paintings portray the light on the threshold, milk cans, brass and copper water boilers, wet clothes, tulasi plants, lamps, and cycles that depict the lifestyle of people in that period.
Having done his masters in fine arts at University of Madras, he shares that he started full-time work on the concept only after coming to Chennai. “I got into detailing after coming to the city. Details add more authenticity to any work and that was my key to success,” he explains. Starting with water colours, he went on to experiment with oil on canvas, acrylic, mixed media on wood and mixed media on wooden boxes. “I haven’t painted or thought about anything beyond doors. There is more to explore in this concept and I enjoy doing it,” he says.
Where does he get his inspiration from? “The experience I get while travelling to different places, meeting different people, watching movies and experiencing different traditions and culture is where I draw inspiration from,” he says. He documents what he sees and once he is back to his studio in Chennai he lets the memories of his experiences to drive his brushes. “My eyes are my lens. I absorb everything I see and that’s how I manage to make my paintings quite realistic,” he shares. “Rajasthan has been my favourite state so far. The houses and doors are extremely beautiful and captivates the viewer,” he adds.
Talking about his family's support, he says, “I decided to become an artist when I was in the fifth grade. I was always inclined towards art and my parents encouraged me. They did not ridicule the idea of taking up art as a full-time profession. I am thankful to them for who I am today.” He paints every day and says his morning usually starts at 4 am. “It is the best time to get creative. I feel sick if I miss out on even one morning,” he says.
With over 1,000 paintings to his credit and more than 40 shows around the globe (solo and group), he says that foreign nationals and expatriate Indians are more interested in his work. “We are loosing our heritage and tradition that was once a part of our lifestyle. Documenting it is a way of immortalising the scene. When people look at it they go back to their childhood,” he says.
Amitabh Bachchan, Vijay Mallya, Sashi Tharoor, Kamal Hassan and Mani Ratnam are among his clients. “Art is something that brings people closer. Many celebrities have my paintings in their collections. They visit my shows and appreciate my work for portraying the heritage of our country,” he shares.
Recollecting an incident at a show in Singapore, he says, “I had a painting of actor MGR from Enga Veettu Pillai. A man from Germany asked me to explain it to him. After I finished, he shocked me with his knowledge about the actor and also asked why his hat was missing in the painting,” he laughs. “My mission is to preserve Indian heritage through paintings and educate the younger generation about what was once our identity,” he adds.
To see his work, visit the Focus Art Gallery, Chennai or www.doorpaintings.com.