Doors open to window to Indian heritage

Indian artist KR Santhana Krishnan (above) focuses on doors in his works such as Open Doors - 18, 2015 (left).
Indian artist KR Santhana Krishnan (above) focuses on doors in his works such as Open Doors - 18, 2015.PHOTO: KR SANTHANA KRISHNAN

At a time when art is becoming increasingly complex, Indian artist KR Santhana Krishnan's colourful canvases are a nod to the simplicity of a time gone by.

For the last 18 years, he has focused on doors and door frames, through which he offers insights into varied rustic lives and lifestyles.

After sell-out shows in the Middle East and the United States, he will present his first solo show in South-east Asia at Indigo Blue Art next month. On show will be 27 new paintings priced between $800 and $4,200.

In a telephone interview from the southern Indian city of Kumbakonam, where he is based, he tells Life that his art draws from his "childhood memory".

He grew up in the temple town and spent a few years in Chennai where he obtained a master in fine arts from the Government College of Arts & Crafts in 2000.


Indian artist KR Santhana Krishnan focuses on doors in his works such as Open Doors – 18, 2015 (above). PHOTO: KR SANTHANA KRISHNAN

He decided to move back to Kumbakonam because he wanted to be in a place that was "not so busy, crowded and packed".

The chatty 38-year-old artist says he does not miss the buzz of city life as he enjoys the relaxed pace of a city seeped in history.

"Returning to Kumbakonam, I am even more inspired," he says.

His solo show Open Doors is a continuing exploration of the collective memories of Indian heritage and culture that are rapidly fading away in today's fast-paced modern world.

The lush, rich canvases show the facades of homes and through them, he opens the window to another world.

Through his unique presentation, he recreates the tactile feel of old, weathered or dirty plastered walls that are often seen in rural India.

The imagery within each artwork is derived from popular culture such as film posters of the 1970s and the ubiquitous images of goddesses from iconic Indian artist Raja Ravi Varma's calendar art.

When asked about his long obsession with doors, he explains: "Doors are truly a window to our world. It is the first thing we pass when we are stepping into our own home. I grew up in a large house that had many doors. Each of them had its own identity. Some had stained glass. Some had calendars on hooks behind, others looked like paintings. I remember there was one large one in our family home and my grandmother used to spend a whole day cleaning the carving and the work on it."

He recalls when he was doing his bachelor of fine arts at the Government College of Arts & Crafts in Kumbakonam, he used to cycle to college and admire the many different kinds of doors he passed along the way.

  • VIEW IT / OPEN DOORS BY KR SANTHANA KRISHNAN

    WHERE: Indigo Blue Art, 52-B Temple Street

    WHEN: Sept 10 to Oct 2, 11am to 6pm (Monday to Friday). Viewings on Saturday by appointment only. Closed on Sunday and public holiday

    ADMISSION: Free

    INFO: Call 6372-1719 or go to www.indigoblueart.com

"They used to fascinate me then as they fascinate me now. I used to cycle past so many houses which had unique doors and I used to find beauty in each of them. I did my first door painting while I was still in college and I have not felt any pressure to change my subject. Even now when I travel, my eyes are always searching for doors in different countries."

That focus on the subject has paid off. Today, his art is in public and private collections and he has done several group and solo shows in India, Dubai and Boston.

Gallerist Suman Aggarwal of Indigo Blue Art got to know of him through a client who owns one of his paintings. She met him in March and, after looking at his portfolio, approached him to do a solo show here.

She says what struck her when she first encountered his art was how "wonderfully spirited" it is.

The international appeal of his art continues to surprise the artist.

"I have never once had to bring back an unsold painting to my studio. Each time I show my art both in India and abroad, I am surprised by the response," he says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2015, with the headline 'Doors open to window to Indian heritage'. Print Edition | Subscribe