The woodland creatures in Anne Van As's paintings emanate gentle beauty and subtle grace, much like the paintings themselves. Van As uses a slim range of colours in her oil canvases but she achieves compelling shades of meaning and emotion. The deer, rabbits, squirrel and wolf she paints dominate her canvases like giants, yet they still appear vulnerable because of their meek expressions and soft bodies. Van As's titles allude to sophisticated human emotions in her animals, such as "Arrogant Deer" or "Sultry Deer." But the strength of her work is that she avoids excessive anthropomorphism. Her animals' thinking remains opaque and the mystery of their minds is a common theme. In many instances, the very unknowable aspect of their thinking creates an impression of wisdom and an unspecified sense of sadness.

There is little mystique about Van As's animal subjects for the humans living around them. To city-dwellers, the white squirrel in Van As's "Saint James Park" who protectively munches on a nut and
looks at the viewer with calm curiosity, is most familiar. But none of her creatures are exotic or obviously endangered. The deer she depicts are considered common pests in some regions, as are the thieving rabbits who pilfer crops. They are often disparaged in the real world, but they are gentle giants on her canvases as Van As focuses our attention on their sweetness and beauty. Her creatures convey a sense of grace and goodness, and her lovely paintings do them justice.

Published on 20-07-2009 at Saatchi Gallery online

ANA FINEL HONIGMAN is a Berlin-based critic and curator. She writes on contemporary art and fashion for publications including Artforum.com, Sleek, V, TANK, Art in America, Artnet.com, Art Journal, Whitewall, The National, Dazed & Confused and British Vogue. As a Senior Correspondent for the Saatchi Gallery's online magazine, Ana contributes exhibition reviews from Berlin, New York and elsewhere, as well as an interview series