Petrina Hicks

Exhibition: 31 May to 1 July, 2006

Petrina Hicks

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A young girl dressed in a pale blue long sleeved jumper raises her arms in front of her face in a gesture of grace, as she looks down, her pure white hair falls over her face.

Petrina Hicks has an attraction to unsullied young people, women and men, at the edge of adulthood. Is it a sense of untouched purity that she is drawn to? Looking more closely, however, this is not perfectionism. Each of her subjects has subtle, or not so subtle, flaws. This is often the second thing that becomes apparent in these portraits, and instantly manifests as part of their fascination, a sort of attraction/repulsion. The work hovers in an unsettling place, between allure and strangeness.

Hicks has photographed some of her previous sitters, for example Lauren, who is albino, and Deb, who has only one arm. Deb sits naked like an alabaster Venus, her head draped with a pink scarf, eyes cast down. Animals have featured in her previous works (remember Shenae and Jade, the girl and the budgie). This time a large dog is caught looking scary with jaws open in a bite or bark. These images trade in their juxtaposition with each other, generating a language

In these portraits the identity of the sitter is not the foremost interest. Hicks is more interested in the territory created by the mood of the images, something she has described strongly as a sense of anticipation, of doom or dread, even a terror. These young people seem to know something that we may not. They have an otherworldiness that is somehow amplified by their physical deformities and imperfections. Hicks has said "This kind of imagery reminds me of a 'futuristic world', where due to advancements in medicine and science all physical imperfections have been bred out of the human race. I like to highlight the subtle imperfections in people's appearances and show the beauty of these aberrations."

The seamlessly smooth look of the studio portraits is part camera and lighting savvy, part digital manipulation. Hicks admits to the latter with no attempt at coyness. She works in the world of fashion photography after all. She loves the realism of the photographic image. She wants her subjects to be larger than life, which they are.

Hicks' work is very popular with collectors. She was listed as one of the 50 most collectable artists in Australian Art Collector this year. She has won several prizes including Sydney Life, Art & About 2004 and the Josephine Ulrich Photography Award for Portraiture, 2003. This is her second exhibition at Stills Gallery.