‘Balloon’, etching, 1974 25 x 50 cm, signed Jenny McNulty, A/P 5/15

Jenny was a still life artist – in all of her art images of people appear only twice. The first, of which no copies remain, was an print of an indistinct figure walking down a street, the light dim and the outlines blurred – an image of loneliness, perhaps. The second is the print above. It was made in the year after she gained her diploma in Advanced Printmaking at Central. She was becoming known as an accomplished print maker, exhibiting at shows in Oxford and at the Serpentine. This print convincingly demonstrates that she had mastered the use of monastral blue – her notebooks at Central show that earlier experiments had not always produced the effects she wanted.

In a blue, cloudless sky, two men in a balloon are alone in the vastness. The dimensions of the print emphasise that their distance from the earth is much less than the space around them. One figure gazes upwards through a telescope at a distant horizon, at heights still to be scaled. The other seems to have a net to catch – what? There is something jaunty about those two figures, who seem to be enjoying the adventure rather than measuring the risks.

Because it is so different from her usual subject it is tempting to look for a personal meaning. Is it a metaphor for an artist’s challenge to make Art their career? To leave the earth for the unknown, to have to make a perilous journey in a fragile craft, the destination unknown, with a net to catch only emptiness? To have left the earth only to see how far there is still to travel? To be fishing the emptiness for fame and fortune?

I am sure that none of this was in her conscious mind. Far more likely is her pleasure in showing her mastery of the medium and I am fairly sure that the fishing net is a joke. But once I had imagined the possible metaphor, I cannot altogether dismiss it.