Anja Snellman


Heikki Saarinen/Hemevamos


Gracefully Alert

What do artist Susanna Kaapu and author Anja Snellman have in common?

A fascination with deer, to begin with: their graceful alertness, constant vigilance, and instinctive readiness to react in less than a heartbeat. Fragility,  timidity, and wildness, with an air of delicate calm that can suddenly spring into chaos.

SINCE HER GRADUATION from Pori Art School in 2006, Susanna Kaapu has used animals to portray her emotional states.

“Deer first appeared in my paintings ten years ago. For me, deer represent complete innocence, courage, curiosity, and being immensely attuned to the senses,” Kaapu says.

“Their gaze is warm and approving, which is why it’s sometimes difficult for me to let go of my paintings.”

KAAPU LATER NOTICED that she was painting deer only in the fall—the hunting season.

“I was painting deer back to life! The white-tailed deer is an alien species in Finland, disliked or even detested by many and hunted because of its widespread population,” Kaapu explains.

She has often wondered how something so innocent and beautiful can evoke such animosity.

“Through deer, I can best express my sensitivity and longing for a comforting, gentle gaze. I often feel that I’m an alien species as well, much like deer. I’m easily scared, yet cautiously curious about the world.”

SNELLMAN FOUND an explanation for her fascination for deer when she was studying to become a therapist and discovered that she is a highly sensitive person.

Deer represented a trait that had always been present, but had not had a name up until that point. All of a sudden, everything made sense.

KAAPU IS ALSO a highly sensitive person—which she discovered seven years ago when a friend gave her an article to read.

“I experience colors, light, scents, and sounds strongly, which often makes life complicated. Social situations are exhausting, and it may take me several days to recover from an event,” Kaapu says.

“At its best, being a highly sensitive person means attention to minute details, a hunger for aesthetics, painting in a state of flow, ecstasy in listening to music, or great pleasure from the scent of basil, for example.”

A FEW YEARS AGO, the artist moved back to the countryside. She lives in a small log house with a garden—where deer visit daily.

“It feels magical. I can paint deer live, from a short distance,” Kaapu says.

“They seemed to appear from another reality, especially the fawns. This inspired me to study beliefs related to deer, and I found out that they are indeed believed to live at the intersection of two worlds, a zone between our reality and what lies beyond.”

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