Meet Santhana Krishnan, the Man Who Made Doors His Muse 

MF Hussain, FA Razack, Adimoolam have a style and Santhana Krishnan made beautiful doors his signature.

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Santhana Krishnan, the door man.
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Santhana Krishnan has an unusual nickname – ‘Door man’.

The 43-year-old artist from Kumbakonam, a temple town in Tamil Nadu’s Thanjavur district, has made doors his muse for the last 20 years. Krishnan creates miniature, life-sized, or sometimes even larger-than-life-sized three-dimensional paintings of doors.

His fascination with doors began in his ancestral house in Edappadi, in Salem, Tamil Nadu, which had about 82 doors.

But today, he has travelled to over 42 countries – and painted along with several renowned artists.

Meet Santhana Krishnan, the door man.
Meet Santhana Krishnan, the door man.
(Photo Courtesy: Santhana Krishnan)

A Signature Style

"If you look at MF Hussain, SH Raza, Adimoolam, Thota Vaikuntham, they all have a style to themselves. I wanted a signature, too, and I have owned this one,” Santhana tells The Quint.

All his paintings have a set format – an open door, offering a glimpse into the people’s lives inside, and revealing an open courtyard or the backyard of the house. On the walls is a scraped movie poster, or even a political poster, or another familiar graffiti to jog your memory to the olden days.

Like, a scraped painting of Coca Cola, ISD/STD/PCO, Rajinikanth’s ‘Billa’ poster, a geometry box, inspiration from Thanjavur paintings – every door is unique.

“And every painting has the picture of crows as well. Because growing up, whatever be the festival or occasion, we left some food for crows. So, I had to incorporate that in my paintings. So, every element will get you all nostalgic.”
Santhana Krishnan

Krishnan completed his Bachelors in Fine Arts in Kumbakonam, and shifted to Chennai’s Egmore College to complete his Masters. During his time in Chennai, he fell in love with doors of old-style houses with beautiful thinnais (porticos), muttram (courtyards), and bright-coloured walls.

  • Every door is nothing like the other.
  • Doors are made in various sizes so as to 
  • A walk down to college everyday made Santhana Krishnan realise his muse was beautiful doors.
  • A lot of Sathana’s works have been inspired by traditional Tamil artwork.

Krishnan recalls when a non-resident Indian, who was travelling to India with his children, chanced upon a painting of his – inspired by the streets of Kumbakonam – and called him.

“He wanted to show his children the place he calls home. He was overwhelmed because my painting reminded him of his grandmother’s house where he grew up. Today, his old house may not be there, but he stood there, looking at the door and pouring his memories to his children. My door had stories to tell that even I didn’t know about,” he adds.

Art is Happy. Art is Colour.

As an artist, Krishnan wants to break free from the stereotypical image of a painter, the one of a bearded fellow with a cigarette in hand.

“If you see me, I will be dancing when I paint,” he tells The Quint.

“Painting is not a showpiece. It has to give the right positive vibrations and there has to be colour. I am a very colourful person. I am a happy artist because I love my profession and get so much joy and satisfaction from every piece of work.”
Santhana Krishnan
A lot of Sathana’s works have been inspired by traditional Tamil artwork.
A lot of Sathana’s works have been inspired by traditional Tamil artwork.
(Photo Courtesy: Santhana Krishnan)
One of Santhana’s favourite works is the one inspired by MGR’s ‘Enga Veettu Pillai.’
One of Santhana’s favourite works is the one inspired by MGR’s ‘Enga Veettu Pillai.’
(Photo Courtesy: Santhana Krishnan)
And amid all the film-inspired artwork,  politics cannot be given a miss.
And amid all the film-inspired artwork,  politics cannot be given a miss.
(Photo Courtesy: Santhana Krishnan)

His work has found favour with celebrities and politicians, including the likes of director Karan Johar, actor Kamal Haasan, director Pa Ranjith, late former Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa, and DMK MP Kanimozhi.

Santhana Krishnan gifted a personalised piece to Bollywood director Karan Johar.
Santhana Krishnan gifted a personalised piece to Bollywood director Karan Johar.
(Photo Courtesy: Santhana Krishnan)
A personalised blue door for director Pa Ranjith.
A personalised blue door for director Pa Ranjith.
(Photo Courtesy: Santhana Krishnan)
He recalled gifting an art piece several years ago to actor Kamal Haasan.
He recalled gifting an art piece several years ago to actor Kamal Haasan.
(Photo Courtesy: Santhana Krishnan)

A Kathavu Residency for Artists

As the coronavirus pandemic forced Krishnan to stay at one place, he is busy teaching people about the value of art at his Katavu homestay (kathavu translates to door) in Kumbakonam. It’s his attempt to showcase the optimism of popping colours, and some dying traditions from different parts of Tamil Nadu.

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