Ever since I was handed The Hobbit to read as a young man, the world of Middle-earth has been at the core of my imaginative being. J.R.R. Tolkien's writings and epic trials of his characters have been much on my mind these past years as my skills have grown, my aesthetics matured, and my thoughts turn to those stories which transcend time. I am now at a phase of my career where I have the technical ability and emotional sensitivity to make real those visions which normally confound and frustrate a young artist. I have become a bit more fearless in embracing major projects and revel in the challenges they present.
This painting speaks to many passions I hold, from that of being an artist, a dreamer, a story teller, and a fan of Middle-earth. Drawing on my love of the Hudson River school landscape artists, it was pure pleasure to undertake this monumental work both in homage to the art of Albert Beirstadt and in celebration of the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien. I could not have stepped into this realm of landscape work without the sublime discovery of Fredrick Church's Niagara Falls at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington DC years ago. I will never forget walking into that room, transfixed by the painting on the wall. It was the first time I really saw a landscape painting and the emotional weight it could deliver. Church displayed such beauty, awe, and technical brilliance in bringing that geological wonder to life through oil paint.
Those emotions were a part of why and how I wanted to tackle this commission, and a reason for its scale - my image is nearly identical in size to a masterwork of the Hudson River School, that of Lander's Peak by Albert Bierstadt at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. What amazed me with his work is how much detail and information could be found on every part of the surface of the canvas. This inspired me to research my image more than I have any other, so much so that I took a long early morning hike up into the mountains outside of Provo Utah with fellow artists Justin Kunz and Will Terry to capture the gorgeous early morning light on snowy peaks. Although none of those images made it directly into the final art, the trip certainly inspired me visually and emotionally, and it was a sublime, unforgettable hike!
Specifically, my mountainous scene comes from The Silmarillion and features a forefather of Elrond, Huor, rescued with his brother from the minions of Morgoth and transported to the hidden realm of Gondolin by the eagles. An act of kindness, discovery and wonder all wrapped into one! Once installed, the art will initial be seen with only the left side visible (the large eagle) as you walk down a long hallway towards the image. As you enter the room, the rest of the vista/painting will open up to you, much like it must have for Huor and Hurin as they flew with the eagles!
Initial sketches and exploratory drawings were begun in the Spring of 2012. Once the composition and design elements were resolved, a tremendous amount of time was spent gathering just the right references for the eagles, castle/city images for Gondolin, and lastly - the greatest time investment - finding the mountainscapes which matched my internal eye of what Gondolin would feel like. I remember spending three hours at a used book store in Los Angeles searching for books on mountains with my friend and old assistant Eric Bouffard (Eric is now a senior matte painter at Dreamworks). Thank you for your pateince Eric!
The bulk of the painting was then undertaken this Spring, Summer and into the Fall of 2013. I sequestered myself in the studio for the later half of August so that the art could be exhibited at the annual gathering of IlluxCon in September. I really do not know how much time was invested in the work, certainly months, and worth every minute!
It was only through working upon a painting of this scale that I could really appreciate the accomplishments of what those landscape artists achieved in their work. I will be forever humbled by this journey.
The painting is my largest to date in an attempt to convey the wonder and majesty of Tolkien's Middle-earth, but it will certainly not be my last. Keep your eyes open for more epic interpretations of Middle-earth to come in the future!
For further imagery of Tolkien's worlds, turn to my collection Middle-Earth: Visions of a Modern Myth from Underwood Books.