Paddy Jaminji, was the classificatory ‘uncle’ of Rover Thomas and a highly respected elder during the establishment of the Warmun Community at Turkey Creek in the early 1970’s. Due to a combination of economic hardship and political upheaval he, along with many of his countrymen, had been displaced from his working life as a stockman and by a strange twist of fate became the founder of the contemporary painting style of the East Kimberley region. In 1974, Jaminji, Thomas, and their contemporaries viewed the destruction of Darwin by Cyclone Tracy as a manifestation of the Rainbow Serpent warning them to make a stand against sliding into the Gadiya (white man’s) ways. This cataclysmic event at the region’s centre of European influence became, for Gidja people in particular, the catalyst for cultural revival. While Rover Thomas re-interpreted the dream of his travels visiting important sites throughout the Kimberley with the spirit of a deceased female relative into a ceremony that included art and dance, it was Jaminji, who was initially the most prolific producer of the paintings that were associated with the story and ceremony, later known as the Krill Krill or Gurrir Gurrir. Rover Thomas described himself as apprentice and confidante to the older man as Jaminji’s great store of knowledge about the land, its features and spiritual significance, provided the grounding for the new ideas and images that would eventually infuse his unique and evocative ceremonial paintings with their strong traditional links. As these paintings generated interest, and a demand for similar works to those used in ceremonies grew, Thomas and others were emboldened to begin their own paintings. Rover camre to be considered the leader of this new art movement. From their genesis in the mid 1970’s, Jaminji’s paintings stood out as appreciably different to the better-known, multi-hued acrylic dotted works that were being created at Papunya during the same period. The remoteness of the Kimberley encouraged a separate development, with Jaminji and those who followed choosing to work only in traditional ochres, which rendered a highly textured surface that conveyed a warm, earthy quality. Jaminji’s diagrammatic depiction of the landscape, which followed the actual contours of the country and used the earth itself as the medium, imparted the feeling that the actual traces of the events, which unfolded through time, were embedded in the works. Jaminji worked as a gardener at the Argyle Diamond Mine during its early years and sold his first paintings to contractors and mine advisers from 1977 onwards. Later, Mary Macha, who ran the Government Marketing Company’s retail outlet in Perth, purchased his and Thomas’s paintings. After leaving the company in 1983 she made her garage into a studio for Rover Thomas and for Jaminji during his occasioned visits down south. She continued to purchase Jaminji’s paintings throughout the early and mid 1980’s until 1987, by which time he was almost completely blind. Jaminji’s most emblematic paintings were of mythic creatures depicted in a figurate style such as devil-devils, and Tawurr, the Half Kangaroo that was transformed into a rock at Elgee Cliffs, the site of an ancient cave painting and Dreaming place. During the Krill Krill ceremony, the spirit stops to acknowledge Tawurr, ensuring the continuity of the spiritual powers that he imparted which are inscribed within the cliffs just as Jaminji’s painting aim to capture the spirit of this ancient being. Despite their formal composition, Paddy Jaminji’s works emanate a sense of power and freedom befitting the work of a man deeply versed in his tradition who spent most of his life working with cattle and moving them across the land. He was the inspiration behind Rover's decision to paint and went on to inspire many others including Lena Nyabi. The themes for his works were derived from his own beliefs, cultural iconography and working experiences. It is this intimate knowledge of tradition and country that imbues his paintings with their deep meaning.
Paddy Jaminji painted for a brief period between the late 1970s and 1987 by which time he was almost completely blind. The first art centres in the region were not established until 1986 by the Kimberley Law Centre and by this time Jaminji was barely able to paint. For the first half of his brief decade of creative activity, paintings were made exclusively for ceremonies and not for sale. Thereafter occasional visitors to the community would offer to purchase paintings and, through Don McLeod and others, Jaminji’s works found their way down to the Government marketing company outlet in Perth, run until 1983 by Mary Macha. Three initial collections of ceremonial boards by Paddy, Rover and others were sold to the Berndt Museum at the University of Western Australia and to the Western Australian Museum. A number of boards were sold to individual collectors and contractors working on the Argyle Diamond Mine site or passing through Turkey Creek, however the majority of these had little if any fixative added to the pigments and were stored between ceremonies on earth floors and in poor conditions. Those used in ceremonies and subject to poor handling have mostly suffered varying degrees of damage including smudging of the ochred surfaces and deterioration of the board on which they were painted. The resultant loss in value is reflected in a number of the artist’s more disappointing auction results. Only 87 works by Paddy Jaminji have been offered for sale through auction compared to nearly 400 works by Rover Thomas. Yet despite his lack wide recognition and his relatively small oeuvre he has a better than average success rate of 64% with 60 works sold in total. With just one exception, all of those that failed to sell were lesser works either because of size, damage, or because they had somewhat simplistic images with little colour relief. His auction results do not reflect a great deal of difference between works painted early or late in his career, for sale or ceremony. Generally the larger the work and the more engaging the image the higher the price it has received. The average price paid to date for works more or less 180 x 90 cm in size is around $50,000 while works around the 120 x 90 cm range have averaged $20,000 and smaller 90 x 60 cm paintings have achieved a mean of approximately $15,000. His third highest sale price was for a very early 122 x 122 cm board, Moon, Sun and Stars 1978-79, which sold at Lawson-Menzies in June 2005 for $105,000 (Lot 54). When originally offered, the work created a minor storm in the media. Noted academic Kim Ackerman challenged the likelihood that it had been created so early and that it was actually a ceremonial board. Further evidence subsequently shed more light on the work’s bone fides. Having been purchased by a Spanish collector it was returned to Australia in 2009 and offered for sale once more. Despite quite modest expectations matching the earlier purchase price, the painting failed to attract a buyer. A great pity, as this was a work of great beauty, extreme rarity and historical importance, something which a largely uneducated market regularly fails to recognise in the hurly burly of the public auction process. (The work subsequently sold privately for $AUD135,000) Paddy Jaminji was the seminal figure in the genisis of East Kimberley art, yet he is rarely recongised as such. Between 2008 and 2012 no work had sold for more than $30,000. 2013 saw a resurgence however, with both works on offer selling for more than their estimate. Hills of Turkey Creek, which in 1998 had already more than doubled its $30,000 high estimate (posting his highest result by far at the time), once again shattered its $80,000 high estimate to shoot to number one of his top ten for an incredible $170,800 (Bonhams, The Grundy Collection, Sydney, 26/06/2013, Lot No. 41). Since 2013 only five small to medium sized works have been offered, and all have found new homes. Works by Paddy Jaminji that remain in private hands are rare and given his primary place in the history of Aboriginal art should increase in value considerably over time. The discovery of spectacular paintings by this artist are likely to be few indeed, and when these come up for sale they should be expected to better his existing sales records substantially.