In 2016, I became an Artist in Residence at the Ness of Brodgar excavations in Orkney. At the end of my time on site, the Director asked me to continue for the foreseeable future. With the exception of 2020, when the dig was cancelled due to Covid, I have returned every year.
My work is based in drawing and sound recordings made on site. The focus is on human activity – both the work of archeologists in the present and the traces of the Neolithic past. Outcomes to date are severals exhibitions, a number of talks, two conference papers – and a 1 hour film of drawings and sound – a trailer is available on Vimeo.
The weather continued wet and windy, the latter particularly strong and biting, which limited my work on site this week.
There is a sheltered spot where the supervisor of Structure 12 has set up office. I sat there to draw the office rabbit on top of the wall and subsequently did a watercolour against the ever threatening sky.
So in and out of the rain, I managed some quick sketches of the archaeologists in the trenches.
But time spent during the rains was not wasted. Martha the rock lady had ‘sweeties’ for me to enjoy – some lovely rocks that make marks.
Also while indoors, I have been getting to grips with some software for my next film, in which I am layering pictures against video and merging one into the other, using colours that include the rock pigments.
Finally on the last day on site this week I managed an oil painting – which will be used in the next film.
This year’s residency is nearing its end, with only three more days on site. The weather may have hampered collecting material en pleinair but good work has been done in the way of thinking about the project as a whole and I’ll be taking away lots to do and think about before next year.
It has been a cold and very windy week, with frequent heavy showers. So it has not only restricted time on site but also been difficult to keep warm. Where the archaeologists are mainly in the relative shelter of the trenches, I am usually more exposed and also static while working – and therefore feel the chill sooner. This leads to speedy work, like this watercolour painted in a matter of minutes, and the following hasty sketches.
They are dismantling some hearths in one of the structures. This in itself is happening very fast (for archaeology). But the body language is great.
To utilise my time here I have been indoors on my iPad reviewing the collection of work to date, by making visual notes of related images, and seeing where there are gaps that need filling. Please note, this is not the same as having a plan, but more a reflection of how things might develop, recognising connections and the potential flow of a future film. With that under my belt I can visit certain parts of the site to see what invites to be drawn or painted, in the way of archaeological activity.
Occasionally so much time is spent indoors that a brief visit is required on site to maintain my daily drawing journal, and in this case it had to be done in the rain…
I live in hope of less rain and wind next week, if not a rise in temperature…
Having torn up my plan last week I have now decided to not only concentrate on what appeals but, realising that people are my primary interest, to focus on human activity.
This brings me back to the original purpose of this residency, which is to portray the achaeologists’ everyday process.
However, when everyone disappears for a tea break there is nothing to do but paint a quick watercolour of the looming skies – which then opened in a downpour…
Some better weather and I’ve torn up my plan. Having tried to make a list of things to do, which was beginning to make me anxious, it seemed sensible to simply go out on site and record, both visually and aurally, whatever delights and makes me curious.
This is the last effort to work to the list. It’s a beautiful orthostat that is thought to be the centre of the whole site. So while I enjoyed drawing it, it lacks my primary interest, which is people.
So here is a drawing of a digger squashed against the edge of the trench. The really have to work in the most extraordinary positions.
Making meticulous notes of a particular piece of the site involves much moving and juggling of the drawing/note board.
Today the sun came out but with the wind still strong, I found a sheltered spot inside the trench to settle down and paint, and make some notes of the archaeologists.
Until next week…
In coming weather – clouds on the hills of Hoy
While diggers continue in nearly all weather, drawings cannot happen in rain.
Two days of bad weather has limited my activity on site but given time to think and access what needs to be done. Sorting through the accumulated images and sounds is a confusing process, but I am slowly getting a sense of where the next film is going. My aim is to simply celebrate this remarkable place.
Orkney has the capacity to pull people in and seduce them. To try and express that is madness. As Cézanne said of the white cloth in his still life that looked like the snows of Mont Blanc, if he thought about Mont Blanc while painting the cloth he would fail, but if he concentrated on the cloth then it would look like the snows of Mont Blanc. This means I must look hard at what is here, not think about how Orkney seduces, and hope my work will reveal what pulls people in.