When I read the writings of JRR Tolkien, my imagination creates breathtaking scenery, ornate architecture, and striking faces. But I’ll be the first to admit that if I tried to commit my imaginings to paper or canvas, even I would not want to take a second look.
Luckily for us, we have artists like Joe Gilronan who can translate Tolkien’s language into beautiful works of art. Joe is a full-time, professional artist who creates Tolkien’s world through the use of oils, acrylics, and clay. He received a Fine Arts Degree in painting from Liverpool University and a Higher National Diploma in design and ceramics from the University of Wales. Originally from Chester, England, he has spent the last four years living in Olvera, Cadiz, Spain.
“I have been very lucky in that I have always lived in close range of amazing scenery—the Snowdonia National Park, the Cheshire plains, and now the Andalusia mountains,” said Joe. “Whenever possible, I go for walks and take photographs and do lots of sketches. So there are lots of trees, mountains, castles, rivers, and landmarks that I have sketched and photographed in my finished works.”
Two artists who have greatly inspired him are J.M.W. Turner, a Romantic landscape painter, and his own father, R.A. Gilronan, who made a career as a successful landscape painter. Joe revealed, “From a very early age I always thought with my hands, and I guess I always knew that one day that I would be an artist like my father before me.”
His love of Tolkien started at a very young age when he heard a reading of “The Hobbit” on a British children’s show. “I just loved the whole world that he had created,” Joe said. “This in turn led me to ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Silmarillion.’ Ever since, a part of me has inhabited this world and art has allowed me to continue this magical journey.
“The landscape of Middle-earth is without a doubt my favorite subject matter. The world Tolkien created is just full of wonders, and at the same time, very real. This is what really inspires my work and fires my imagination—finding the magical in the natural landscape.”
When I asked Joe if the imagery in the recent “Lord of the Rings” films influenced his perception of Tolkien’s world, he replied, “Very much so, but not always in a conscious way.” He went on to explain, “Often after finishing a painting, I realize that certain characters and settings sometimes strongly resemble the film version. Tolkien’s Middle-earth and Peter Jackson’s films have become such an integral part of each other, that at times it is very difficult to separate one from the other.”
Joe uses his surroundings to determine his next project. “I pretty much allow Tolkien’s writings to reveal themselves in the landscape and nature around me,” he said. “I currently live amongst mountains, hill top castles and sprawling olive groves; it takes very little to imagine elves dwelling amongst the mist shrouded trees, dwarf strongholds in the mountains or proud knights populating the castles.”
With such beautiful pieces, I thought that Joe might have a hard time letting them go, but he explained, “By the time that I finish a piece, my mind is already planning the next artistic journey into Middle-earth. It’s always with great pleasure that I part with a work, as I know it’s going to a fan of Tolkien, painted by a fan.”