Sunday, September 1, 2013

Petrina Hicks : photographer

Petrina Hicks draws attention to habitual ways of thinking and depicting in our culture, past and present. Her most recent series The Shadows (2013) focuses on the representation of women, foregrounding photography’s capacity to exaggerate, elaborate and invest in its subject. In Venus, for instance, a model obscures her face with an enormous and elaborate shell in a wry comment on the sexual symbolism commonly associated with women in consumer image culture. This imagery recalls Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, while Hicks’ play with scale, perspective, depth, and an almost tangible surface makes us aware ofphotography as a solid form, an object that demands to be encountered, quite literally, in the flesh. Birdfingers and The Hand that Feeds tease our assumptions of femininity by confusing common representations of childhood. The young girl's fingers in Birdfingers are delicately adorned by a set of tiny bird skulls, a game that has turneddeath into decoration, while The Hand that Feeds presents a standoff between beauty and beast, as a girl and raven face each other from two sides of a diptych.
In 2011 Hicks’ Hippy and the Snake series uses a saturated colour palette set against a uniform, bold blue background. This strong aesthetic is befitting of its subject, the clash of spirituality and consumerism. Through highlighting a shared visual territory by referencing esoteric and commercial ideas of paradise, Hick’s reimagines Eve’s meeting with a snake in the Garden of Eden and highlights the commodification of Eastern philosophy. For instance, where perfect flowers float, disembodied from their earthly and flawed reality in Weeping Flowers, in Hippy and the Snake a model achieves levitation in a yogic meditation pose, while wearing a cheaply printed T Shirt adorned with a Hindu Goddess. These works ironically reflect on Western culture’s preoccupation with achieving a state of visual perfection, not through reaching an enlightened or heavenly state, but by practicing the art of photographic manipulation.
Petrina Hicks’ series Beautiful Creatures (2011) appeals to our senses. Immediately alluring the large-scale, hyper-real photographs, are all rendered so clearly and with such control that they are reminiscent of advertisements, promoting a slick new television series perhaps, or teen clothing range. But with a series of little ruptures, within images and between them, Hicks undermines our usually beguiled response to such artistry. For her, photography’s capability to both create and corrupt the process of seduction and consumption, is of endless interest.
In Every Rose Has Its Thorn (2010), Hicks subtly and quietly teases the threads of consumerism and unravels the relationship between beauty and money. As if to understand the mechanics ofthis art she pulls it apart, extracting, classifying and itemising elements of visual seduction. Perfect pink roses, bunches of grapes, fluffy white kittens, and stone statues of an idealised human form, reappear as Hicks distils recurring motifs, singles-out illusory devises and over-saturates symbolism. It is seduction on steroids. In a time when so much fine art photography embraces the banal and anti-aesthetic as a distancing device from ever-seductive commercial imagery, Hicks has taken a radically alternative approach.
Following a 3 month residency in La Cité, Paris, Hicks exhibited The Descendants at Stills Gallery in 2008. Continuingwith her large-scale photographic portraiture Hicks' immaculate works probethose dualities that are at the heart of contemporary photography - traversing the fine lines between closeness and distance, between perfection and imperfection and between truth and falseness. Lambswool, for instance depicts a young blonde subject, almost impossibly neat, embracing a wolfhound, which gently chews on her arm. This image was Hicks' winning entry of the ABN AMRO Emerging Artist Award 2008. In 2009, the arresting image The Boy from The Descendants was selected for the finalist exhibition of theNational Portrait Prize.
The Descendants includes a series of video portraits in which Hicks further confounds the real and hyper-real by employing a visual convention used in computer 3D modelling. A 360 degree view of a static subject slowly rotates before the viewer - but in this case her subjects are real rather than computer generated.
While Hicks primarily works with people, her works transcend the boundaries of portraiture as she finds beauty in perceived imperfections and renders idealized beauty strange. Her images of adolescents elegantly capture the ambiguities of youth. Whilst she uses digital interventions, they are almost imperceptible, creating instead a polished hyper-reality. These subtle contrasts within the image play with photography's dual capacities as both a revealer of truths, and a perpetrator of lies. Hicks' photography embraces the scope of what it means to be human.
Petrina Hicks has exhibited her work widely through both solo and groups shows in Australia, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, USA, UK, Japan, China, Mexico and Brazil. Recently, her work was selected for the 17th International Videobrasil in Brazil and the Pingyao International Photography Festival in China. In 2013 her video work The Chrysalis was included in the inaugural Guirguis New Art Prize. Petrina's works belong to various public and private collections including the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Queensland Art Gallery, National Gallery of Victoria and Artbank. She has been awarded notable prizes and residencies including the Josephine Ulrick Photography Award for Portraiture, ABN Emerging Artist Award (2008), la Cité Internationale des Arts Paris residency and an eight-month Fellowship with Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany.


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