Last summer, Earthjustice partnered with the Creative Action Network (CAN) to launch “Join the Pack,” an art campaign that combats age-old stereotypes about the gray wolf and celebrates the species as an icon of the wild. Artists heeded the call to create a body of work that brings attention to the plight of the gray wolf. In this blog series, we interview the artists behind the beautiful art submissions to learn what inspired them to imagine a kinder, gentler Big Bad Wolf.
The following is an interview with artist Anthony Chiffolo.
Miranda Fox: How did you get your start as an artist?
Anthony Chiffolo: I first began photography as a youngster; I remember photographing the giraffes at the zoo—what fun! I became serious about photography much later, however, when the first auto-focus cameras came on the market. I could finally photograph birds in flight! My photography has progressed since then, and when I switched from slides to digital, I began to manipulate my images in Photoshop—only slight corrections at first, but then moving on to more creative applications. The image of the wolf is an example of my more creative efforts.
MF: What inspires you about wolves?
AC: I think that for humans, wolves embody a tension between the domestic and the wild that we haven’t been able to understand yet. Wolves remind us of dogs, obviously—aside from the way they look, they are playful and affectionate like dogs, too—so there is that reminder of domesticity. Yet wolves are without a doubt creatures of the wilderness. In fact, they need vast tracts of wilderness for survival. Human beings are hardly wilderness inhabitants these days, but we used to be, and the wilderness is in our genes, so to speak. So the wildness of wolves “speaks” to me in a very deep way.
MF: How did you come up with the idea for your design?
AC: This is an image of a Mexican gray wolf (Canis lupus baileyi), one of the most endangered of all the wolf subspecies, originally ranging from northern Mexico through central Arizona and over to western Texas. Also known as the “lobo,” this wolf was extinct in the wild by the 1970s. Since then, captive breeding has raised the total population to about 400, of which about 100 individuals have been released into or born in the wild under the Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan. Reintroduction in Arizona and New Mexico has generated opposition from wolf opponents.
This particular wolf was located at the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, NY, which participates in the Species Survival Plan by keeping the wolves isolated from humans until they might be released into the wild and by hosting breeding pairs to help increase the lobo’s genetic diversity.
Because of how close the Mexican gray wolf is to extinction, the controversy surrounding its reintroduction and the progress already made in the lobo’s survival plan, I chose to depict this wolf in motion, moving forward, in bright, bold colors against a darker background, to symbolize the wolf’s hopeful reemergence as a vital part of the Southwestern wilderness.
MF: Wolves are in the crosshairs now. What do you think needs to be done to protect them?
AC: First, I believe that education is key. People have a deep fear of wolves—unfounded, according to scientific studies, since wolves do not pose a threat to humans—so we need to learn the truth about wolves and their natural relationship with us. Second, we need to find a way to coexist with wolves in the borderlands between wilderness and ranch lands. Ranchers fear that if reintroduced to the wild, wolves will overrun ranch lands and decimate herds of sheep and cattle. Again, this is a somewhat unfounded fear, since wolves prefer to steer clear of human activities and very few livestock kills have been proven to be from wolves. Efforts toward coexistence will require education, but also experimentation with new ways of separating livestock from wolves, such as flagged lines. Third—or perhaps this is first—wolves need to continue to be protected under the Endangered Species Act.
MF: Do you think art can change the public’s perception of wolves?
AC: I believe that art can change attitudes. Of course, it’s serendipitous: Which particular piece of art is going to capture the public’s imagination? Which work is going to become “iconic” and enter the cultural idiom to the degree of being able to influence the way people think? Nobody can really guess, but that’s why artists continue to strive to strike a chord with the public—to communicate ideas in such a way that the idea and the artwork become inseparably intertwined.
MF: Anything else you want to share with our readers?
I urge everyone to “go outside”—that is, to rediscover the natural world in all its splendor. Children especially need to reconnect with their wilderness roots, to understand that human beings are essentially creatures of the wild too. Only then can we begin to understand our fellow travelers.
Want to take action to help protect wolves or submit artwork to the campaign? Learn more.