Jan Billycan is one of the Broome artists represented by Short Street Gallery, which we visited on our recent trip to the north-west. Jan has sold paintings all over the world, and is considered a brilliant abstract artist. We fell in love with Jan’s work at the gallery, without realising how important she is, and the prices her paintings fetch! Her works are widely sought after by collectors and hang in many major art galleries. Here is piece on Jan by the National Gallery of Australia, from a 2007 Culture Warriors exhibition.
Jan is a Medicine Woman who can see inside the human body, so her paintings often seem to express an intimate relationship between country and body. This is not a foreign concept to indigenous artists, indeed they see no separation between their Mother country and themselves, her children. Jan Billycan was born in the Central Desert where she grew up, but was later taken to Bidyadanga.
Bidyadanga, where Billycan paints, is a small place of some 800 persons, 250 kilometres south of Broome. It is inhabited by five language groups who came out of the desert to estuarine land when their jila (waterholes) failed due to the disruption of the water table caused by whitefella mining operations. Many of the paintings are memory-maps made to show the younger generation their elders’ origins.
Jan says” this is the birth place of my father’s clan. Our clan is also named Kirriwirri, and call each individual members of this clan Kirriwirri. There is a a big warla (mud flat) at this place. This is what this painting is about.” Kirriwirri is in the Great Sandy Desert close to and west of Well 33 on the Canning Stock Route. It is the birth place of Jan and her family. This work shows tali (sand dunes) and jila (living water).
Jan Billycan has enormously long list of achievements, awards, prizes, exhibitions and bibliography. Perhaps we will buy one of her works in the future, as she seems to speak straight to the heart. Artists like Jan Billycan have much to teach us about non-duality, about love and respect for country and ourselves.