Hector Chundaloo Jandany, c. 1927-2006

The last of the original group of painters that defined the Warmun school of painting passed away on September 10. There is a moving eulogy for him in The Australian (September 15) written by Frances Kofod, a researcher and linguist affiliated now with Jirrawun Arts. She begins his life story with the horrifying murders of his grandparents, but his own life story seems to be one that embodied the concept of reconciliation. He was a great Aboriginal painter who took up the brush to teach traditional stories to children at a Catholic mission school in Warmun. He was a songman who knew Bach. He painted early on with Jack Britten and was regarded as a close friend by former Governor-General William Deane and NSW Governor Marie Bashir.

Kofod’s tribute focuses on Jandanay’s spirituality, and in looking now at images of his work, I’m struck by how often he structured the elements in his paintings in vertical “stacks.” Sets of hills in light ochre tones float one above another within a darker frame. Kofod suggests that the frame creates an icon-like effect in the work. But I think the actual composition contributes equally to the sense of transcendence. The depictions of hills, one piled above the other can be read as a simple perspective rendering. But given the strain of Christian spirituality that ran through Jandanay’s life, they also suggest a notion of ascension. This is quite marked in a 2003 composition entitled “Moon Dreaming.” Two simple hills on a gray plain anchor the painting. Above them another, single hill, framed by a pair of boomerangs and a spear-thrower occupies the middle ground. They all point to a black pendant semi-circle at the top of the painting in which a crescent moon cradled between two four-pointed stars makes the central, cruciform element among the stars of the Milky Way.

“The Ascension” in fact was the title of a large work that sold at auction in Sotheby’s Melbourne in July 2005 for over $36,000, which I believe was a record price for the artist at the time and triple the high estimate for the work. I remember the painting was hung on the wall to the audience’s left during the auction itself, and thus was quite clearly visible (and large at nearly 190 x 190 cm). I don’t think anyone expected the bidding to go quite so high; what I remember most is that the sale was one of the first moments of real electricity in the room that evening. When the hammer came down auctioneer Robert Blakely paused for a moment in a mood of sincere satisfaction; but it was clear that it wasn’t a tremendous sale that pleased him so, but the recognition it afforded to an artist who often seemed to stand quietly in the shadows of the giants of Warmun and Waringarri. 

The artist’s country at Gnarrguruny (Texas Downs)

Gnarrguruny (Texas Downs)
Hector’s beloved Gnarrguruny, otherwise knows as the East Kimberley’s vast Texas Downs cattle station, is featured. He tells, top of the Palangkut Hills of the the high, top country, and the lesser, flat topped mesa, mid-section, below which are the more numerous gwali-wali, small and conical. (© 2000 Hector Jandany and Narraangunny Art traders)
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