Words: Briony Downes
In 2019, the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), Melbourne presented Bleached Gothic, a retrospective of work by Sydney-based artist Petrina Hicks. Despite starting as a fine art photographer just 15 years ago, the exhibition made it clear Hicks has amassed a solid and enduring body of work.
Initially trained as a commercial photographer, Hicks draws heavily from the crisp aesthetic of advertising imagery. Working with a medium format Hasselblad camera to create her minimalist compositions, Hicks oscillates between portraiture and still life, often using the same female model for an entire photographic series. Hicks incorporates simple props like shells, lit matches, animals and bones as additional visual markers. Powerful women, identity and animals are also key references in her work. “I am drawn to photographing humans and animals together, tracing the boundaries of each creature,” she explains. “I see the female alignment with nature and animal cycles as something powerful.”
Following its time at the NGV, in mid 2021 Bleached Gothic was exhibited at the Australian Embassy in Paris as Gothique Blanc. Part of Australia Now 2021-2022, a multi-disciplinary program focused on cultural diversity and innovation, the exhibition spanned a selection of Hicks’ work from 2003-2019. Curator Isobel Crombie sums up the allure of Hicks’s aesthetic: “Hicks draws on a wide and diverse set of inspiration,” she says, “which she narrows down and reduces to something so distilled and potent that its meaning is ambiguous and unsettling.”
In November 2021, Hicks’ photographs were back in Paris with a selection of images from the Fly through the candle’s mouth like a singeless moth series included in Paris Photo 2021. Initially exhibited as a solo exhibition at Michael Reid Sydney, for Paris Photo Hicks was partnered with artist Michael Cook for Melbourne’s THIS IS NO FANTASY online viewing room. “The title is a line taken from Sylvia Plath’s 1959 poem Witch Burning, where being burnt at the stake is used as a metaphor by Plath for self-transformation,” Hicks says. Drawing from the life stories of historic figures like Joan of Arc and Anne Boleyn right through to Hillary Clinton and Julia Gillard, images like Bonfire, 2021 critique the public perception of women with knowledge and power. As Crombie says, “Hicks’ approach to feminism in her work is intuitive and unconscious – it’s an extension of who she is as a person. Much of her work is a project in understanding her own identity and psychology and her models often act as ciphers or avatars for herself.”
Rounding out 2021, in December Hicks was one of 16 artists included in Four x Four @ McClelland, an initiative spearheaded by McClelland Sculpture Park + Gallery, Melbourne. Hicks is currently working on a new body of work to be shown at Michael Reid Gallery, Sydney in late 2022.
Featured image: Artist Petrina Hicks with her work Red Head, 2021. Archival pigment print, edition of 8 + 2AP, 100 x 123cm. Portrait by Nick De Lorenzo. Courtesy: the artist and THIS IS NO FANTASY, Melbourne.
This article was originally published in Art Collector issue 99, January-March 2022.