Side Image: 

Sergio Gonzalez-Tornero (Chilean, b. 1927), Wolf, 1973, aquatint with embossing, 17¾  x 23¾ inches. Purchase, through funds from the School Loan Program. Collection of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

About the Artist
Sergio Gonzalez-Tornero

Sergio Gonzalez-Tornero was born in Santiago, Chile, in 1927. He studied art in both Chile and Brazil before finishing his education at the Slade School of Art in London in 1958, and at the printmaking studio Atelier 17 in Paris with printmaker Stanley William Hayter between 1959 and 1962. Several years later he moved to the United States, where he resides in New York. His etchings and aquatints have been the subject of exhibitions in Chile, the United States, and Europe. He continues to make prints and exhibit his work at a gallery in Connecticut.

In describing his printmaking methods, Gonzalez-Tornero has said, "The plate is a kind of bas-relief, with various modulated levels. The idea comes first; then follows a simple line drawing which is developed into a precise design, done directly on the plate with a felt pen. With asphaltum varnish used as a stop-out, the basic design is given a succession of deep etchings, alternating with much scraping, polishing, aquatinting, drilling, battering, sawing and cross-scraping. As long as there is metal, there is hope…Proceeding in this way, or in other ways that may occur to me, I pull trial proofs until I find the best possible manner of printing the plate—or if I find it unprintable, I may throw it away. At this point I enjoy the excitement of having 'discovered' the print. Then the printing of an edition becomes a question of time and hard labor, since I print all editions myself."

Key Ideas
  • representation combined with fantasy, producing a caricature of natural form
  • humor that makes light of differences between animals and humans
  • endearing qualities that conquer fear in the viewer
Discussion Questions
  • What are some differences between the characteristics of this wolf and a real wolf?
  • The artist has drawn this wolf so that it looks straight at the viewer with its glowing eyes. What qualities does its pose convey?
  • What do the strong colors and shapes suggest?
  • What might the little blue-green being peering from the wolf’s throat represent? What might be the some of the wolf’s reactions to having it there?
  • What story could you imagine that would have the title, "Yikes!" In what ways would this wolf be different in your story from the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood?
  • What might the artist be describing about nature?
  • What role does imagination play in our understanding of animals?
Vocabulary
  • askew  at an oblique angle, towards one side, not level, awry
  • caricature  a representation of a person or thing in which certain characteristics are exaggerated to create a comic or grotesque effect
  • Cubist  characterized by the reduction and fragmentation of natural forms into abstract, often geometric structures, usually rendered as a set of discrete planes
  • menacing  threatening to cause evil, harm, injury
  • plane  a flat or level surface
  • Surrealism a twentieth-century literary and artistic movement that employed fantastic images and incongruous juxtapositions to represent unconscious thoughts and dreams

Can You Imagine This? Fantasy in Art

Sergio Gonzalez-Tornero’s lush image of a black wolf with eyes wide open and mouth agape seems to leap off the paper. The artist has set the animal against a modulated yellow background, offering a warm contrast to the black, reds, greens, and blues in the composition. From muzzle to ear tips, the figure of the wolf fills the picture plane. Its long, exaggerated snout is rectangular and flat, with no defined nose or nostrils. It lower jaw is longer still, bending down as if to fit within the confines of the etching plate.

The wolf’s sharp teeth, bright eyes, pointed ears, and long snout suggest its predatory nature, but its expression is far from ferocious—she seems instead to be startled, astonished, or surprised. A curious figure with glowing red eyes and a toothy grin lurks below, emerging from or nestled within the throat of the animal. Could this strange creature be the cause of the wolf’s expression?

There is no indication of the woods or fields that would be the natural environment of a wolf—the image is devoid of naturalistic illusion. The wolf seems starkly alone, accompanied only by the freckled humanoid. Its expression of extreme amazement is almost comical, calling sympathetic attention to its imagined plight. Gonzalez-Tornero’s humorous image defies traditional depictions of wolves as fierce and dangerous creatures. Instead, the artist presents a tragi-comic figure who appears to be in some discomfort, or at least in the throes of an alarming situation. There is compassion here, a kindly consideration of circumstances that may be beyond the wolf’s control. Gonzalez-Tornero has rendered the beast as benevolent, calming assumptions about the nature of wolves and diminishing the fears that many humans hold for these resourceful animals.

Wolf conveys vulnerability and becomes a metaphor for human expressions of emotion. It speaks to need, susceptibility, and defenselessness and to the search within for the sources of our imperfections. The wolf’s reaction to the exposure of an “inner life” hints amusingly at the importance of self-awareness or of confronting the unexpected. With its depiction of a bizarre and extraordinary life experience, Wolf takes on meaning through the playful association of animal and human attributes.