Interview with Jay Johnstone and his Tolkien inspired art (09.07.12 by Pieter Collier) - Comments

The idea that The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings had been transcibed form ancient manuscripts has inspired many artists and scribes to produce paintings, handwritten facsimile editions, bookbindings, manuscripts and other Tolkien inspired art.

For Jay Johnstone, a Tolkien inspired artist, this idea caused him to study religious manuscripts, icon and fresco illustration from the medieval periods. His art is the result of that exploration. He takes elements of iconography up to the works of Gustav Klimt and works with traditional techniques to produce art that could have been made in the valleys of Middle-earth or in the libraries of Minas Tirith.

His work touched me deeply and so I contacted him for an interview. While Jay Johnstone is not a man of many words, his art however tells many stories. I hope with this interview to show a bit of the man behind the icons, the manyscripts, ... One thing is certain, his passion for Middle-earth shines through and while there are many painters around, this one can be called a true 'artist'.

If you are interested in his art, it is available here.

Luthien & the Wolf by Jay Johnstone


Jay Johnston has been invited by the Tolkien Society to exhibit at The Return of the Ring on the 16th - 20th August 2012 at Loughborough University.


Interview with Jay Johnstone about his Tolkien inspired art


TL: Can you tell us a little about yourself?

JJ: I’m a graphic designer, living in Newcastle in the North of England.
I have been a Tolkien fan and an avid collector of his books since my teens. Whilst having always enjoyed illustration, it is only in the last 10 years that I have journeyed into Tolkien inspired art. 
Tolkien inspired artist Jay Johnstone


TL: When did you discover that you could draw? 

JJ: I was 7 or 8 when I found I had some talent for drawing.. 

TL: What first interested you in Professor Tolkien's works? 

JJ: When I was about 18, a couple of my friends were debating the name of Sam's pony. I hadn't a clue what they were talking about. "You must read Lord of the Rings" they said.....! 

TL: What influence did J.R.R. Tolkien's books have on you and your art? 

JJ: After reading LOTR for the first time, I began to collect his books both new and old.
The sense of history that the stories gave led me to experimenting with ancient illustration styles and methods.
 

TL: I'd like to talk about your art. What media do you work in? 

JJ: I like to experiment with most medium- oil, acrylic, gouache, watercolour and egg tempura, then embellish with gold leaf, powder or paint.

I have also tried various paper stocks, icon board, wood and canvas - recently even painting on slate and tile.
Galadriel Mural by Jay Johnstone


TL: Did you dream of becoming the artist you are today? 

JJ: I have always had a passion for painting that led me towards a fab career as a graphic designer, illustrator and cartoonist. 
Tolkien's world has been a private passion and it was only lately that I have started to promote my work. 

TL: You are drawing scenes from The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings. What works inspires you most? 

JJ: They are all so rich with inspiration but my favourite story is the tale of Beren and Lúthien. 

TL: Why did you do your Tolkien related art as icons and manuscripts? 

JJ: I love the idea that The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings had been transcribed from the Red Book.

This concept led me to experiment with manuscripts, icon and fresco style illustration that re-inforced that concept.
The Sacrifice of Faramir by Jay Johnstone


TL: Next to you icons and manuscripts you have some art work, that resembles a lot to Gustave Climt, or is this not the inspirational source? 

JJ: Klimt is my favourite artist, his work is so sensual and full of life and passion. It's a great source of inspiration. 

TL: What is unique about your art? What makes it different from that of other artists who find their inspiration in Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings? 

JJ: I try to create a sense of antiquity and reverence that compliments the characters that Tolkien created in my mind. I ask myself how would these illustrations have looked if done by a scribe or monk in the middle ages and how would they look now?

TL: What is your favorite piece of art? 

JJ: Gustav Klimt's ­ Water Serpents 

TL: Are you having any contact with publishing companies to make an illustrated book with your Tolkien art? 

JJ: It is certainly something I have considered but have not progressed as yet. 

TL: Who is your favorite Tolkien related artist and why? 

JJ: I love so many of the Tolkien artists. My favourite illustration is Luthien Tinuviel by Alan Lee. It has a mournful dreamlike quality which captures  the sense of doom that lies upon her.

TL: When you're not working, what are your favorite ways to relax and have fun? 

JJ: Spending time with my family, playing cricket and going for a beer with friends..... maybe not in that order and definitely not at the same time! 

TL: What are you currently working on? 

JJ: I have 4 or 5 works on the go at any one time. At present Lutien, Frodo and Elrond are on the drawing board. I am also experimenting on trying to recreate artefacts.
Theoden Mural fragment by Jay Johnstone

 
TL: One final question. What do you think about the Hobbit movie?

JJ: I am looking forward to it, you never know Smaug might even keep my kids quiet for 2 minutes........

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