Inspired by JRR Tolkien’s literary creation of Middle-earth the epic setting of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, the exhibition ‘Dales of a Perilous Realm’ presents an intriguing mix of photographic montage, drawing and fictional archaeology study in response to Tolkien’s tales.

Artist John Cockshaw presents a series of evocative photographs in which the dramatic force and character of a given Middle-earth landscape is emphasised over fantastical events or characters. The central quests and wars and the populace of Middle-earth that are involved in them are largely kept on the periphery of the image, obscured or planted in the background. In addition to the direct influence of JRR Tolkien’s writing the frame of reference also includes 19th Century Romantic painting in the frequent depiction of nature as a cataclysmic force combined with apocalyptic visions of hell. All but the merest hint of the characters that populate Tolkien’s Middle-earth reinforce the notion that these photographs present a grand stage setting where the drama is unfolding out of sight. The landscape is the main character and central focus. Pencil studies and ink drawings by the Artist accompany the main collection of photographic work along with original poetry and occasional source quotations from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. In the same way that JRR Tolkien conceived The Lord of the Rings both as a response to a perceived lack of English legend and a tribute to the landscape of his formative years, the exhibition is also the artist’s tribute to the Yorkshire landscape. Although often barely detectable, many local landscapes are referenced, subverted or deconstructed in varying ways using digital montage and macro photography. The recognition of these references is not vital to the appreciation of the work but offer an extra layer of enjoyment and subterfuge.

The Way to Weathertop

In 2009 when this exhibition project was in its early stages Artist John Cockshaw accompanied local Archaeologist Shaun Richardson on a survey to Crummackdale in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales to gather visual research. It quickly became apparent that the two shared similar interests in landscape and Tolkien and, like small stones that create an avalanche, a collaboration began.

In addition to providing a fascinating commentary to accompany ‘Dales of a Perilous Realm’ Shaun Richardson has contributed expertly rendered Archaeological survey drawings that fuse references to the Yorkshire Three Peaks with a fictional depiction of the location Weathertop in The Lord of the Rings. Linking geographical references to Yorkshire and Tolkien’s Middle-earth is not a means of exerting any actual theory that the two are linked, or that Tolkien was thinking of Yorkshire in his writing, but presenting a loving tribute to both as separate entities.

‘Wrath, Ruin and a Red Nightfall: The Art of John Cockshaw’ is an upcoming publication by Oloris Publishing and will feature a foreword by Archaeologist Shaun Richardson. Both Artist and Archaeologist are working on a future publication that seeks to combine an artistic and archaeological study of JRR Tolkien’s Middle-earth.

The following preview video provides a sneak peek of the exhibition that will open at Mill Bridge Gallery in Skipton, North Yorkshire 27th February to 9th April 2016.