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October 09, 2019

A Series Of Illustrations Captures The Unique Quirks of Doors Across South India

Text by Anandita Bhalerao

In conversation with artist Ranganath Krishnamani on his illustrated series ‘Doors of Expression’

In pursuit of design that will last beyond the latest trend cycle, more and more of us are forsaking the creativity that once animated our homes. Nowhere is this more evident than our doors. To outsiders, these rectangular pieces of wood single-handedly represent the people who live within them. What stories are they telling? What do they choose to keep hidden? In his illustrations, Ranganath Krishnamani captures these little symbols and eccentricities that give character to houses across the country. Below, the Bangalore-bred designer-illustrator talks to Verve about finding inspiration in what you know, paying attention to details, and the problem with modern design.

What drew your attention to doors as objects of your illustrations?

India is unique in that we actually worship the door in a sense—during festivals, for instance, we put different types of flowers on them. With most of my work I tend to get really drawn to these mundane vintage elements. What I started to notice was an unconscious pattern. Everywhere I went, I would have at least a few pictures of doors. I realised that over 2-3 years I had accumulated at least 200-300 pictures of all sorts of doors. All of them were pictures taken on day trips to places in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Once I set up the style, I jumped directly into the digital process. I went through the pictures looking for what was unique in 2-3 doors that I wanted to combine in one. That itself was research in terms of what I want to create – if I have 200 photos and only pick 5, what do the 5 really look like?

What were some of your favourite architectural features in the façades that you illustrated?

I think I was trying to look for uniqueness. One of my favourites is the door with the pot sitting right on top, and the jali above. I was trying to capture certain symbols that you miss out on when you look at the big picture. The blue door, for instance, you see that on the bottom they actually colour it in with some yellow and some dots. Without that, it wouldn’t be very unique – it would be just another door. Similarly, the pot makes a big difference in how the visual comes together. The ‘Om’ on one of the doors, the hanging bulb that doesn’t have any kind of protection – I was trying to look for these unique subtleties you don’t see. And I was also trying to capture texture, like the veneer that is very clearly shown on some of them. I think it started off with the Rajasthan door, which was the first one in the series. I didn’t want to make it look very illustrated. In fact that door wasn’t based on a picture I made; I just tried it out to see what it would look like.

To what extent were the doors influenced by the localities or regions they were in?

In my observation that was a defining factor. After the Rajasthan door, I tried to choose only the photos that felt natural to me, and the ones I could relate to. Although the ones from the north had many local elements, I have never lived there, so I didn’t know if they really meant anything. The way I looked at the ones I illustrated was – imagine I don’t meet these people, but through their aesthetic choices and the symbols that they have on the door, I know exactly who they could be. Today we just have flush doors which have no personality at all. Looking at these doors, even from outside, one can understand that they have a very strong aesthetic knowledge. Their choice of colour, even the blue door with the weave on top made of wool – it shows intricacy, an eye for detail, and a lot of subtleties that you would now totally lose out on.

What were the houses themselves like? Were they more traditional?

If you look at the Pondi house, it had a very different kind of style. For instance, the door was sliced into half in the middle so that air could come in – so it was functional, but within the functionality they tried to make it aesthetic.  Most of the doors that intrigued me were hand painted which means that there are certain things that the owners wanted to communicate to the people who were just walking by, including the door number. There was a time when we were so immersed in arts and culture that it came naturally to us. In a way we’ve lost that now – we all want to look uniform and blend in. We don’t want to stand out by having different symbols, because we don’t know who’s looking at us and judging us. It’s all too much baggage at the end of the day.

What are your thoughts on the significance of colour in Indian aesthetics?

I think colour is something that, especially in our culture, is sometimes overly used. It has a lot of symbolic value – India is looked at as a land that has to be colourful or it doesn’t feel like India. But at the same time, as artists and designers, we have an opportunity to moderate the kind of colours we use and how we use them. It’s very easy to fall into the kitsch culture of using colour mindlessly. To me it’s more about being restrained with your use of colour without really losing out on the ‘Indian’ aesthetics. It becomes really hard in that sense – explaining Indian aesthetics in 5 colours, when there are a million hues to choose from.

What makes an interesting subject for you?

My first question is ‘am I drawn to it?’ Sometimes I pass by something and later find myself thinking about that scene. Or I would try one as an experiment then leave it alone, but later it would come back to me. That’s when I realise that there is potential. In a way, it’s about trying something and putting it out there to see if it really grows on me. Do I catch myself revisiting some of these experiences, or pictures, or is there a pattern to my thinking – whether it’s a song, an idea, or a certain kind of a quirk.

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