Petrina Hicks is a Sydney based photographer whose work flirts with artifice and the illusion of perfection. Having trained as a commercial photographer, Hicks produces highly stylized tableaux and portrait photographs that seduce but also confound the viewer. Slightly perturbing or off-kilter elements – including unnatural postures or the metaphorically charged pairing of humans with animals or objects – rupture otherwise subdued scenes. In this way, Hicks subverts the conventions of straight photographic portraiture to explore discordant narrative and allegorical possibilities. Describing her earlier work retrospectively in 2013, Hicks recounts; ‘I held on to the aesthetic techniques I’d developed through working commercially, but it was the coding, language, sub-text I was aiming to subvert…. the images remain ambiguous, because the signs to decode them are absent.’
The female subjects depicted in Lauren with fruit, 'Lambswool' and 'Zara 2' are set against an indeterminate and context-less white backdrop. These partial portraits are staged so that each figure evades the gaze of the viewer. They appear with eyes shut, faces turned or obscured entirely by a mass of hair blown by an invisible full-force wind. Hicks often deploys this tactic of evasion to further scatter meaning and deter didactic interpretation.
These hyper-real scenes court associations with the uncanny but also sanitise tropes derived from supernatural or horror narratives. A wolf tenderly gnaws a child’s arm in 'Lambswool' while the wind in 'Zara 2', propelling the girl’s hair but not her blouse, makes her seem possessed. With her pale complexion and closed eyes the woman in 'Lauren with fruit' appears lifeless and mute; indistinguishable from the platter of ripe fruit she holds with such inert composure. Surface and artifice become thematic principles. The women and girls wear white but their purity is impassive. Treating her subjects as pictorial constructions and immobile props, Hicks candidly gestures towards the way women are routinely depicted in the media. In doing so she simultaneously replicates and undoes the ploy of photographic illusion. Her subjects and compositions are impeccable and pristine but also unsettling and even quietly sinister.
119.8 x 119.8 cm image; 124.0 x 124.0 cm visible sheet; 129.8 x 129.8 x 4.5 cm frame
Signature & date
Signed, l.r. verso frame, black ink 'PH'. Dated, l.l. verso frame, black ink on white label '...2008...'.
Gift of Andreas Wiessner & Christian Wichura 2016. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
Not on display
© Petrina Hicks