It is my great pleasure to take part in the first Tolkien Society Seminar of 2021, held online on Saturday 13th February. The theme chosen being “Twenty-first Century Receptions of Tolkien”, I took it as an opportunity to explore one of the more contemporary aspects of Tolkien-inspired art, stepping a little away from my usual area of study (interior illustrations). For the first time, registration for the Seminar is free. More information can be found on the Tolkien Society website (click). Below is my abstract.
Artists from Middle-earth:
a 21st-century dive into Tolkien’s Secondary World
Tolkien has always inspired book illustrators, from Pauline Baynes’ in 1949 for Farmer Giles of Ham to the 2020 new edition of Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth embellished by the triumvirate of Alan Lee, John Howe and Ted Nasmith.
Yet the 21st century has seen a new direction in artists’ reception of Tolkien’s secondary world. There is an increased will to enter ever further into Middle-earth, and to make it a world one can visit as if in an experience of virtual reality. This translates into many different mediums, including video games and the cinema, but it also touches traditional art and illustration. Four artists in particular embody this new stance. On the one hand, Alan Lee and John Howe both published so-called “sketchbooks”, taking the readers and viewers on a walk from one corner of Middle-earth to the other, and even beyond, as if they themselves had crossed the ford of the Bruinen or survived the Redhorn Pass and had brought back pencil sketches made on the motif. On the other hand, Tómas Hijo and Jay Johnstone explore the possibilities of paintings and linocut prints as artworks created by Middle-earth artists.
They all echo Tolkien’s often quoted letter 131 to Milton Waldman in which the author wished for “other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama” to prolong his creation, but Johnstone, Hijo, Howe and Lee have set out to offer us art “from” Middle-earth rather than art “about” Middle-earth, as Tómas Hijo explained in an interview for the Tolkien Collector’s Guide. The four of them offer viewers of the 21st century an unprecedented visual tour of an invented world and the artworks that may have been created there.