BEYOND THE THRESHOLD: RECENT WORKS OF SANTHANA KRISHNAN
Artists have defined their choices in representing themes for making statements about their feelings, emotions, and sentiments or about social, political and cultural realities within which they are contextualized. One theme with metaphorical potential of fluidity and mobility, orchestrating and arranging movements is doors and doorways. An artist who wishes to establish his identity through the limina or the threshold offered by the doors is K.R. Santhana Krishnan.
Thresholds or the liminal spaces can be utterly compelling and they exert a powerful tug on the sensibilities. Every artist’s journey begins with a call to adventure, which can be breathtaking, serendipitous, watershed moment in which she or he recognizes a liminal space, and steps across the threshold into another realm. The encounter with liminal spaces is required in order to survive, to grow and be creative. Liminal spaces allow one to step out of the ordinary world for a while, and into the rich realm of the archetypal, the strange and the creative. And this is effectively and productively interpolated by Santhana Krishnan
Interfacing with the metaphor of the threshold, the artist has been articulating his expressions through the motif of the doors and the reality that lie beyond it. For the artists the engagement with this motif has been compulsively conditioned by revisiting memories of his younger school and college days spent at Kumbakonam. Says Santhana Krishnan, “As a young under graduate, 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. I was overwhelmed when the light of the rising and soft rays of the setting sun reflected on the doors which brought out their serene beauty enhanced further with the Villaku madums (sacred place for lamps) with oil stains, the manjal, Kumkumam or the tumeric paste with red kumkum markings on the carvings in the Nilai or the wooden frame and the Tulasi plant with a mud lamp.”
Nevertheless representation of doors retrospects to the Dutch genre paintings of the mid seventeenth century, wherein this genre held a visual fascination and reached its apogee with the doors achieving a curious ubiquity within artistic representation. In the case of Santhana Krishnan, doors here serve as a narrative for memories and recollections revisiting it in his present series of works to reestablish a lost tradition and heritage. According to him, on his travels across India, he realized that within every state regionally; doors have their own artistic and cultural story to narrate. Gradually it also dawned on him that the tradition of making vernacular doors was losing its grip within the fast developing globalization and consumerism and decided to create artistic expressions in which the doors will create a dialogue with the viewer and hence indirectly with the past. In doing so obliquely, Santhana Krishnan is also analyzing the ins and outs of perception. This self conscious stance greatly increases the complexity of the relationship between creator, object and participant. The artist is no longer content simply to regard the object, he also watches himself as he regards the object, standing outside of it to become a raconteur. Thresholds therefore for Santhana Krishnan are sacred places which form a boundary between what is "here" and what is "there", thus revealing intimate and emotional memories through his forms. His doors articulate a metaphor which is a bridge between symbol and his thoughts.
The intervention through the doors is both material as well artistic. That is some of his works are in mixed media with the actual doorframes and the door with the rest of the space painted as an illusion of the reality beyond. While in others the motif of the door is extended to become a painted image recreating with verisimilitude the ‘portraits’ of doors literally as they survive, with peeled of paint and plaster or the fading advertisements of Everyday batteries, Horlicks, or Coco Cola. Interestingly by collaging these advertisements on the walls, which besides being a ubiquity in many small towns and suburbs of cities, the artist is emphasizing on the redefined image of these products which at one time required no advertising since they defined the quality. In this respect Santhana Krishnan has developed a visual complexity though seemingly his works appear to be hyper realistic.
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 lone milk pail, the heavy uncouth locks, the disheveled pots, the hand pump or the lantern. The aesthetic appeal of his works lies in his engagement with a realistic style. The painstaking process of rendering every form and its associative texture is truly admirable. His colours also sing of the vernacular bordering almost on the pop. The colours are garish with bright yellow ochres, deep blood reds, muddy van dyck browns, singing blues, ash greys, royal purples and sun set oranges. The vistas beyond the door have no human element, and the stillness of his composition is creating another narrative, namely of the insensitive man who in his greed to be identified as global will create uniformity thus dissolving the individual, the distinct and the significant. Hence the doors have lost their unique character engulfed in the torrent of mass production and consumption.
The artist’s insightful perception has enabled him to create his own philosophy which is one of memory and recollection. Striking an affinity with his painted illusionistic three dimensional spaces explored and represented with utmost verity, an analogy can be drawn with memory; defined as juxtaposition of images of spaces thus making it spatial. And through his revisitation he makes the whole process one of creating poetic and evocative images. According to him, “Doors play a vital role in our life. To see the world, we also need to open our small doors (eyelids).” Doors therefore for Santhana Krishnan becomes a metaphor for self-discovery. As an artist he steps out of a door into a new life and new opportunities. Or he steps through a door to explore his interior world. The doors of Santhana Krishnan, are his experience of those images created out of prayer of keeping the memory alive and will continue to speak to the creator long after the initial process, as images and body sensations.
Santhana Krishnan works are interactive through his realistic aesthetic, exploring the concept and metaphor of the door. His works are tactile inviting the viewer to reach out to touch and feel, to be sensitive to the emotions and feelings embodied within it. The visual aside, his works are audible establishing that interactivity which engages the mind to create a dialogue, thus providing a spatial magic something rich and strange, extraordinary, creative and exhilarating. Thus the passive translates to active and the artist through the mediation of paint and mixed media allows the viewer to interact and mould the experience into something that he wants it to be.
Doors, therefore has vehemently contoured the identity of the artist. Says the artist, “My passion for representing doors through the visual medium is to keep alive our heritage and tradition. Equally my intensity of my approach towards this theme demands that I be recognized as “Door Santhanam”.
Ms. Ashrafi S. Bhagat. M.A., M. Phil., Ph.D., is the Head, Department of Fine Arts, Stella Maris College, Chennai. She is an Art Historian and writes on modern and contemporary art.