From the Art Hut – a large expression of colour

By Jeanne Bouza Rose

Sample FaceFor me, the mystery of the Ness is the story of what the people were doing there.

During all the years I worked at the dig shop or in finds, I took photos of the shapes and colours, knowing that there had been life in between what now is predominantly brown, grey earth and white, greyish stones with shadows.

The first year I was an artist in residence at the Ness, I knew my challenge was to somehow put warmth into the structures that were being woken up again.  

The landscape that surrounds the Ness wraps itself around the two lochs and the various blues that appear between the white caps during fierce winds. That undulating hillside hosts purple, brown, green, gold, and even magenta at times, punctuated by the regularity of the boxed shapes of colourful barns, byres, and homes.

Working AreaThere are the moments of a summer solar eclipse or a lunar eclipse that change thinking about the sun and the moon as it may have done for those in the past who walked through the Ness, and always the same colours present or past.

Well, the 2018 residency found me drawn to the inner area of Trenches T and J and the area of earth being left for soil sampling in  the sondage in Trench P

At first, I was drawn to Trench T, as the earth there was bent and so colourfully layered like an earth rainbow.  This was further emphasized in the hearth back in Structure One. The hearth was being exposed and removed for soil sampling.  While the colours I saw were the leftovers, the residue of the life experienced within these areas, they were in the earth colour range of the charcoal, the ochre, the red oxide and the bony whites that have been found at the Ness and other Neolithic and prehistoric sites.

And so, between the reality of the sky above and the surrounding lochs and land, I looked into the trenches and saw the brightest of earthy colours to use in my painting.

Dr Jo McKenzieDr Jo McKenzie, micromorphologist  working in the earth rainbow and taking Kubiena tin samples, was kind enough to share tiny bits of the earth in the area she was working in, and I was able to mix this into my oil paints, making a textural component too.   

I also became totally enamoured with the depressions left behind after Jo removed her Kubiena tins and the impressions they left are a strong part of the painting.  The depressions had no technical name; Jo suggested I name them and so “s(specific)p(point)l(location)-adonga”, lovingly said SPLADONGA!

Karen Wallis, also artist in residence, has already explained here how she has been experimenting with stones and their colours on the site.  As of yet, there is no evidence of the variety of colour that comes from using plants but to some degree, I really could use every colour in my painting.

The story of my painting

In the summer of 2018, I was drawn not only to the earth rainbows, but also to Structure Twelve, which was not being dug. There, the curve of the dark brown earth with varying coloured layering and the bright green grass contrasted with the easterly entrance and uncharacteristically, I began painting from the right to the left.

Jeanne Rose painting.The fifteen-foot-long painting which I called the Homage to the Sondage in the Montage with some Debitage on the Side became a reflection of the colours already there on site.  The painting is brighter and bolder than the photographs as I used more reddish browns to imbue and reflect the life that was. 

In between the stones by the entrance to Structure Twelve, there are hints of the 21st century colour with orange-and-white danger tape and the white of the small-finds markers.  But surrounding all the work in the trenches is the bright green of the Orkney summer that seems to be neon at times as it glows under the blue sky. 

I used oil pigment sticks that have a very strong and rich colour. They are handmade and have an intensity of colour that is very close to the original pigment.  These seemed appropriate to use at the Ness as I sought to create a composition of a life left behind and yet still placed under the Orkney sky and hugged by the surrounded hills.

Chris GeeGoing amongst the working archaeologists is humbling as they do hard physical work in varying weather conditions. I was working in the art hut protected from the weather and winds and felt the need to include others on site in my painting. 

What did we have in our modern 2018 world that was not being found on site?  Writing.  So, along the bottom of the painting, I got the notion to have graffiti of sorts. I tested the idea out on the one and only Christopher Gee.  I asked him if he had a favourite, funny, special, archaeological word, or even if it just had an interesting graphic look. 

He immediately responded: “Yes, I rather think ‘loss on ignition’ or ‘optically stimulated luminescence’ are fun!”  Well, that was enough for me.  I handed him the full colour box of oil pastels and invited him to inscribe in whatever calligraphic style he wanted, a few of his favourite words.

WritingThe idea grew like the roots of a tree and more and more diggers came in at breaks to either give a word or write one.  I suppose the best was when “bioturbation” was included and I was told it meant the tunnels that earthworms leave behind them.  Hmm. I think the graffiti along the bottom is the bioturbation for all the archaeological activity at the Ness both past and present.

The finished paintingYou can now purchase a giclee print of the painting, which was photographed with the help of Jim Bright. Profits from its sale go to the Ness of Brodgar to boost much-needed funds. There is also a print of a woodcut based on Structure Twelve.

I have also used parts of the painting as designs for scarves, cushion covers and this year. I have a range of items featuring the graffiti, all available at

Proceeds from these sales are also donated to the Ness.

You may also like...