At the time of his death in 2007, Hector Jandany was the oldest member of the Warmun artists, at Turkey Creek. His family history was littered with harrowing tales of persecution. Gadiya (white people) shot his grandfather and harmed his grandmother, who subsequently died in childbirth and, while Hector was still in infancy, his father also died in confrontation with white people. Though his mother remarried a stockman, whom Hector admired, it was his mother’s country, the Bungle Bungles (Purnululu), that became the primary source of his artistic inspiration when he took up painting late in his life.
Hector’s decision to become an artist sprang indirectly from his work with the Bough Shed School, which opened in 1979 at Warmun, and of which Hector became the director. It was here that he encouraged two-way learning, maintaining a firm belief in his instinctive knowledge of country whist having adopted a strong Christian belief. 'White people read things, but I can feel what’s right and wrong, in my heart. I have that inside feeling, but the white man-the paper tells him' (cited in Rothwell 2004: 6).
Hector began painting with the establishment of the Waringarri Aboriginal Arts in Kununurra in the late 1980’s and continued a decade later after the Warmun Arts Centre, began operating out of the old post-office building at Turkey Creek, the community in which he was born. Here he would sit, an inspiration and delight to anyone who found the time to just sit and enjoy his company and humour. He would build the surface of his canvass slowly and carefully by applying soft earth colours, pink, greens, greys and later introducing warm browns, reds and blacks. He gained renown for quirky figurative depictions and irregular hill formations rendered with an innate sense of spacial geometry. He treated the surface of his work as if it were sacred, touching and rubbing his hand gently across it reverently. Watching him use a stone to rub, sand and smooth the thin washes of softly coloured earth pigment that had been mixed from rocks gathered and carefully ground in the surrounding environment, made one feel as if he believed the painting to be the country itself.
Hectors preference for traditional occurs was significant. Like the other old men that had been his contemporaries he believed that, 'you can feel that paint, you can feel that country' (cited in O’Riordan 2004: 235). It is this tangible connection that reflected Hector’s commitment to maintaining his spiritual obligations. One aspect of this spirituality is seen in his magical Krill Krill paintings, such as those created for the ceremony that took place at Warmun in 1994. In these stark works on board his depiction of ancestral owl spirits bears comparison to early Christian icons. Hector was a deep spiritual believer whose faith blended his Gidja upbringing and beliefs and his Christianity into a unique interpretation of Catholicism. His religious philosophy is best understood through works such as Mary and Joseph 1993, consisting of two bird-like carved statues created after Hector had been invited to share Christmas lunch with the residents of the local hostel. He was sensitive to the spiritual meeting point between two vastly different traditions of religious practice and could enliven this cross fertilisation with an animated sense of humour. In life Hector could be profoundly funny in a ways that belied the pain of his early childhood. He was loved for the gentle way in which he could make the driest comments on people’s odd behaviour, the hazards of old age, or ‘those mad bastards in Canberra.'
Although his only solo exhibition came in the last 12 months of his life at Raft Gallery in Darwin, he was a regular entrant in the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award and his art was included in the landmark exhibitions Aboriginal Art and Spirituality held at the High Court in Canberra, and Images of Power at the National Gallery of Victoria as well as the books published under the same titles.
Though Hector Jandanay played second fiddle to many of the brightest stars of the Warmun movement, the eccentricity of his compositions, their variety and sensitivity, make his works of art particularly memorable and interesting. Over two decades he produced a steady and consistent body of significant works. He lived to become the last of the grand old pioneers of the painting movement at Warmun. While his fame may never match that of his more successful contemporaries such as Queenie McKenzie and Rover Thomas, once discovered, many collectors are likely to find his works a more than adequate substitute. Indeed, those with an eye for the unique and eccentric may find that, here in Hector, lies something even more appetising.