The Art

Fish

Sergio Gonzalez-Tornero has created a haunting image of an extraordinary fish as it floats in the depths of the sea. The fish appears to glow from within, with its red eyes, pink mouth, and yellow- and white-tipped appendages. Its large teeth, and pointed fins and protuberances, suggest that it might be a fierce predator or, conversely, a vulnerable animal that uses its spines and teeth for defense and protection. There are no clues as to its size; nothing else but the blue of the ocean is in view.

Gonzalez-Tornero has positioned this curious creature so that we experience her head-on and eye-to-eye. We can imagine that we are scientists exploring the deep ocean and encountering this wondrous fish, each studying the other for the first time. There is an intense and arresting stillness in this image, even as the artist’s use of brilliant color, bold shapes, and strong contrast conveys life and energy. Below the image, the word “FISH” is pressed into the paper in embossed upper-case letters.

Although this fish might seem other-worldly, it is an image of an anglerfish. The anglerfish is an ancient family of saltwater fishes, having evolved more than 100 million years ago. Its name is derived from a fleshy tentacle, a modified dorsal fin spine that protrudes from its forehead and is used to lure the fish and crustaceans that are its prey, much like a human “angler” uses a fishing pole. Female anglerfish have evolved the ability to emit light through bioluminescence to further aid in their efforts to food; the females of some species also use bioluminescence to attract a mate. Millions of bacteria living in symbiotic relationship with the anglerfish produce the characteristic glow of these species. This adaptation along with other physical characteristics allow anglerfish to survive in a very challenging environment. Species that live in the deep ocean experience temperatures below 40 degrees, little if any light, and enormous water pressure bearing down on their bodies.

Food is scarce in the deep ocean, so anglerfish conserve energy by limiting their body movements; they often drift motionless with their mouths open, ready to snap their sharp, transparent teeth onto unsuspecting prey attracted by the glow and movement of their lure. Their skin has the ability to absorb light, making the fish invisible in the darkness of the ocean.

Sergio Gonzalez-Tornero’s imaginative portrayal of this remarkable fish allows us to contemplate the amazing adaptations that animals have evolved to thrive in their habitats. Through evolutionary processes, animals such as the anglerfish have developed specialized abilities, including interdependent relationships with other life forms, that have allowed them to survive over millennia.


Anchor Standard 3
: Refine and complete artistic work
Essential Questions: What role does persistence play in revising, refining, and developing work? How do artists grow and become accomplished in art forms?

Anchor Standard 7: Perceive and analyze artistic work
Essential Questions: Where and how do we encounter images in our world?  How do images influence our views of the world?

Anchor Standard 8: Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work
Essential Questions: How can the viewer “read” a work of art as text? How does knowing and using visual art vocabularies help us understand and interpret works of art?

Anchor Standard 10: Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art
Essential Questions: How does making art attune people to their surroundings? How do people contribute to awareness and understanding of their lives and the lives of their communities through art-making?

The Artist

Born in Santiago, Chile in 1927, Sergio Gonzalez-Tornero is an accomplished printmaker and painter. Throughout his long and successful career, he has explored a wide vary of subjects, from vibrant, solitary images of wild animals to complex meditations on psychological and spiritual dimensions of human life, from nearly pure abstraction that calls to mind elemental forces of nature to the history of art.

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.”

After studies at the Slade School of Art in London and Atelier 17, Stanley William Hayter’s well-known printmaking studio in Paris, Gonzalez-Tornero moved to New York City and later settled in Mahopac, New York.

Key Ideas

  • Adaptation and specialization in nature
  • Interdependency and symbiosis
  • Creativity and imagination in depictions of animal life
  • Art as a means for encountering animals in their habitats

Discussion Questions

  1. Sergio Gonzalez-Tornero has presented this unusual fish so that it looks straight at the viewer with its glowing eyes. What qualities do its posture and expression convey?
  2. Why might the artist have chosen strong, flat colors and shapes to depict this fish?
  3. Why might the artist have exaggerated or embellished an already flamboyant or unusual creature?
  4. What hypothesis can you think of for beginning an investigation of this animal?
  5. What adaptations allow anglerfish to inhabit the deepest parts of the ocean? How do these features help the fish to survive in its environment?
  6. If we could extend the edges of the image in all directions, what other creatures might we find in this ocean habitat?
  7. What might the artist be describing about nature?
  8. What role does imagination play in our understanding of animals?
  9. How does this fish compare to fish that are native to the streams, rivers, and lakes of Wisconsin? What adaptations have freshwater fish evolved to survive in their habitats?

Vocabulary

  • bioluminescence the biochemical emission of light by living organisms such as fireflies and deep-sea fishes

  • evolution the process by which different kinds of living organisms are thought to have developed and diversified from earlier forms during the history of the earth

  • habitat place where an organism or a community of organisms lives, including all living and nonliving factors or conditions of the surrounding environment

  • interdependent two or more things dependent on each other

  • lure something that tempts or is used to tempt an animal to do something

  • symbiotic involving interaction between two organisms living in close physical association

  • tentacle a slender, flexible limb or appendage in an animal, used for grasping or moving about, or bearing sense organs