British artist John Cockshaw creates amazing work depicting the landscapes of Middle-earth and I caught up with the him before the forthcoming exhibition, Now Far Ahead The Road Has Gone. So without further ado, I present the driving force behind the exhibition, the very talented John Cockshaw.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your art?
I am a North Yorkshire-based artist, writer and video artist trained to MA in Research level and BA(Hons) in Art and Design and Fine Art respectively. My specialism in Tolkien-inspired art has spanned about a decade now when taking into account the research and preparation required to approach a large body of work focusing on Middle-earth. I’ve exhibited my oil / acrylic landscape and abstract painting work locally in Yorkshire since 2007 but that has been on a hiatus more recently whilst I’ve been exhibiting my digitally enhanced photographic work as the medium of choice in my creative pursuit of Middle-earth. Oxford and Sarehole Mill in Birmingham have been particularly great UK locations with a genuine Tolkien link to have exhibited at over the past few years. My enthusiasm for the works of JRR Tolkien, although not acquired until my early twenties, has combined intriguingly well with my long standing interests in Surrealism, Photography, film music and miniature-scale photography.
The decision to use the medium of photography to explore my own creative vision for Tolkien’s works seeks to acknowledge the realism and real-world believability of Middle-earth as described on the printed page. The wealth of landscape writing in The Lord of the Rings brings Middle-earth to life and maps it out so vividly, thereby creating an enticing feeling of actually being there and of knowing it. The medium also possesses its ties to cinema through its framing of what the lens can and can’t see to increase a scene’s dramatic potential and the careful consideration of mise-en-scene. It is this element that is important to me in the use of the medium; the dramatic narrative appeal of the cinematic image and the powerful suggestion of viewpoint and immersion. The medium yet also makes an acknowledging nod to the influence the film adaptations of Tolkien’s work have had on me since they arrived in 2001.
Why Tolkien and how did you first discover his work?
I had a familiarity with Tolkien during my early childhood due to the looming presence of my parents copy of The Lord of the Rings on the bookshelf – a single volume paperback with a front cover by Pauline Baynes. Without being able to put my finger on why exactly, it stood out as a daunting and formidable book through my young eyes. It was unread by me at this time, but I was aware of it being talked about by my family. The Ralph Bakshi film, like others of my generation, played a large part in my introduction to the key players and place names of Middle-earth.
My proper discovery of JRR Tolkien came at age 23 whilst studying for my MA at art school. Two years prior in 2001 the cinematic release of The Fellowship of the Ring had brought me front and centre into Middle-earth as an adult and began a slow kindled interest that led to devouring the early 1980’s BBC radio play and then progressing to reading the books. After that I was entranced to the point where an artistic exploration of Tolkien’s creation was a real possibility.
To pursue an artistic focus on JRR Tolkien was such an unconventional approach for me at the time; I was deeply immersed in the filmography of Chris Marker and Andrei Tarkovsky, Surrealism, The photography of Jeff Wall and Duane Michals and the music of Philip Glass as my sources of influence. It was a strong creative direction to head in and it was an instinctive choice centring on detailed realistic representations of an imagined world, and fantastic settings grounded in real-world reference points. Deep down I think I also appreciated the unconventional quality of approach in terms of Tolkien’s writing and story construction. I love Tolkien’s prose and his rich landscape writing.
Another element of the question “Why Tolkien?” lies in an extension of the New Line cinematic adaptations of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit; the music of Howard Shore. Magisterial, visceral and profoundly moving I take the view as others do that the score in its entirety is a valid telling of Tolkien’s work in its own right. So robust and expertly crafted is its emotional range, epic quality and storytelling flow that is possesses an enormous and intellectual scope that puts it comfortably in the company of works like Wagner’s Der Ring Des Nibelungen. The music of Shore has a strong force of influence in my artwork and I will cover this again later on at the end of this interview.
The exhibition where and when will this be taking place?
“Now Far Ahead The Road Has Gone: An Exhibition of Art Inspired by JRR Tolkien” opens with a 12th December evening preview and daily thereafter from 13th December until the 31st January at the luxury Arts Cinema venue Curzon Ripon. Ripon is a market-town sized Cathedral City in the Vale of York with stunning locations in its vicinity and the nearby Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors. Curzon is a London-centric cinema chain and this cinema space is their most Northern venue. By fine chance the preview evening falls on the release date of the final instalment of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies as it opens nationwide in the UK and at this venue. The Art on show takes specific focus on The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and the exhibition has kindly received sponsorship from Square Studios (specialist Giclee printing specialists) in Harrogate.
How was it conceived?
The exhibition was conceived as a Christmas-time cultural event, a meeting point between an event movie release and a serious minded art show. The coinciding element of the final Hobbit film and the location of the cinema was an intended move to capture interest and excitement centring on all things Middle-earth. A showcase of international artists with a range of styles on display and a range of approaches to JRR Tolkien’s source material was my prime directive. I am hugely indebted to the guidance and assistance of Hamburg-based curator and friend Becky Dillon who I’ve worked with previously in Oxford and has facilitated my involvement in exhibiting work at HobbitCon 2 and this years inaugural NazgulCon in São Poalo. Through this guidance I was able to plot a timeline of exhibition preparation and more importantly make the necessary introductions between myself, artist Katarzyna Chmiel-Gugulska and Ted Nasmith’s European sales agent Malcolm Lindley. Initially the idea was to bring together a larger ensemble of artists work but plans had to be scaled back due to the available exhibition space. When the decision was fixed to include three artists work a major principle driving the exhibition forward was the inclusion of an insightful educational content; to present a critical comparison of the artists work and curating them as an interrelated body of work. Time constraints prevented this idea reaching full fruition and the work will be curated as discrete arrangements of each artists work, with linking ideas running through still possible to discern at close inspection.
Who will be participating?
In addition to my own artwork, the work of Canadian artist Ted Nasmith and Polish artist Katarzyna Chmiel-Gugulska will feature. It was a real thrill and pleasure to announce the inclusion of Ted Nasmith’s artwork as comprising one third of the exhibition, and I’m highly excited that Polish Artist Katarzyna Chmiel-Gugulska will have some of her enthralling pencil and graphite work on show. An over-arching theme of the combined artists here, when combined with my own landscape-focused photographic works, is one of photorealism and a meditation on that theme. My photographic manipulations don’t aspire to strict photorealism rather than edge into surrealism via an interplay of varying miniature and full-size scale elements in addition to the choice of colour palette. Ted Nasmith’s Middle-earth artwork is born out of technical illustration and architectural rendering, and it possesses a hyper-real photoreality and colour palette. The detail is nuanced and the storytelling craftsmanship inherent in his painting is expertly executed. Katarzyna’s conceptual graphite and pencil work possesses an exemplary sense of realism in its presentation of characters and events – but it isn’t just a life-like quality you get from the work its an ability to present the inner emotional world of a given character(s) to the point where the viewer participates in their journey with them. It will be a thrilling proposition to experience the curated show with the attendees of the preview evening, to discuss the work and see how the three distinct styles correlate and contrast with each other.
Oloris Publishing is sending some publicity materials to have on display for perusal in the exhibition space. Like other upcoming Tolkien-inspired artists, I am currently working in collaboration with them on two future book releases where the influence of Middle-earth plays its part. It will be an exciting idea for Oloris to be able to bring attention to the patrons of the show their range of current and future releases and the artwork particularly of Jenny Dolfen, Joe Gilronan and others.
I’m also pleased that Leeds-based Archaeologist Shaun Richardson, who has provided an excellent scholarly introduction for one of my Oloris releases Wrath, Ruin and a Red Nightfall, will be contributing some thoughtful exhibition notes specific to my work that delves into viewpoint and medieval viewing practices of landscape.
Where can we find out more?
My artists blog frommordortothemistymountains.com will be the main place to look for more information, progress reports and photos from the show’s opening.
A short video promo for the exhibition can be found at the following YouTube link:
The event has been well publicised in the locality of Ripon and there is a sense of a real buzz about the exhibition – as a localised event it should be an exciting and interesting show for this Hobbit-centric Christmas period and I’m excited to be welcoming the Mayor and Mayoress along for the opening preview evening.
What really adds an extra dimension to the whole exhibition for me is the perfect coinciding with another of my Middle-earth related efforts. Running over two consecutive months (December and January) is the presentation of an illustrated article written for the entertainment industry’s premier film music publication Film Score Monthly Online that offers a meditation on Howard Shore’s music for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Original artwork in response to Shore’s will feature in the article along with a reflection on the musical analysis that has been famously undertaken by musician and author Doug Adams as achieved in his 2010 book The Music of The Lord of the Rings Films. The study of Shore’s scores by Adams represents a stunning example of film music appreciation being elevated to the art form it deserves to be. The artwork provided for the article responds to the majesty of Shore’s music and makes direct reference to Adams’ analysis of Shore’s musical constructs and treatment of themes. The scholarly reference that Adams shines a light on in his investigation of the music is fascinating and I hope that this specific body of artwork born out of a direct relationship with film music appreciation offers a thoughtful intersection between film music and visual art. Film Score Monthly Online makes full use of the digital realm in its offerings to subscribers and is committed to film music analysis, discussion and critical journalism. The December issue will go live around 16th December at fsmonlinemag.com
“Now Far Ahead The Road Has Gone: An Exhibition of Art Inspired by The Works of JRR Tolkien” opens at the Arts Cinema venue Curzon Ripon with a preview evening on 12th December 2014 and daily thereafter from 13th December until the 31st January. Admission to the exhibition is free to the public.