On Wednesday I left the rock pools of Potato Point to visit the exhibition of Jessie Traill etchings at the National Gallery of Australia. I'd never heard of Jessie Traill, and I know nothing about etchings, but I was enticed by the tranquil etching of Mallacoota, a place familiar and close to home, in “Artonview”. I loved the muted colours, the curves, the sense of light, the balance and the long narrow shape.
It's the first time I've visited the NGA for something other than a blockbuster and the gallery seemed deserted. All the better to stand and contemplate, peering up close with that juggling of bifocals that is my typical gallery manoeuvring. The labels offered a new verbal poetry and a whole array of new ignorances: plate tone with wiped highlight; foul biting; intaglio; soft ground etching; aquatint; mezzotint; dry point; warm black ink.
However, knowledge wasn't necessary for pleasure in the etchings. I was interested in Traill's fascination with the beauty of industrial architecture, something I've experienced, almost against my will, with structures like the brick chimneys at Newtown, the railway viaduct at Manilla and the huge round silos at Binnaway. Her series about the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and her etchings of the Clyde in Scotland used the complex technology of etching to represent other complex technologies, where the aesthetics of form was at one with function.
I left Canberra about 2. The afternoon was rainy and by the time I passed through Braidwood the landscape was grey, misty and atmospheric, a real-world match to the feel of Jessie Traill's etchings.
For a brief biography and a short video, have a look at http://nga.gov.au/traill/