30
Jun
13

Exhibition: ‘Petrina Hicks: Selected Photographs, 2013’ at Helen Gory Galerie, Prahran, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 12t June – 6th July 2013

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“They’re thoughtful pictures that arouse curiosity rather than desire.”

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Robert Nelson

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A stunning, eloquent and conceptually complex exhibition buy Petrina Hicks at Helen Gory Galerie. It seems churlish to repeat writing about the themes and mythologies exhibited in the work after they have been so excellently delineated in the catalogue essay by Dan Rule. Everything that you need to know about the work is in that concise piece of writing.

I am just going to add that the photograph Venus (2013, below) is one of the most beautiful photographs that I have seen “in the flesh” (so to speak) for a long while. Hicks control over the ‘presence’ of the image, her control over the presence within the image is immaculate. To observe how she modulates the colour shift from blush of pink within the conch shell, to colour of skin, to colour of background is an absolute joy to behold. The pastel colours of skin and background only serve to illuminate the richness of the pink within the shell as a form of immaculate conception (an openness of the mind and of the body). I don’t really care who is looking at this photograph (not another sexualised male gaze!) the form is just beauty itself. I totally fell in love with this work.

Forget the neo-feminist readings, one string of text came to mind: The high fidelity of a fetishistic fecundity.

Marcus

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Many thankx to Helen Gory Galeries for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Petrina Hicks. 'Venus' 2013

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Petrina Hicks
Venus
2013
Pigment print, Edition of 8
100 x 100cm

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Petrina Hicks. 'The Birth of Venus' 2013

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Petrina Hicks
The Birth of Venus
2013
Pigment print, Edition of 8
100 x 133cm

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Petrina Hicks. 'Birdfingers' 2013

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Petrina Hicks
Birdfingers
2013
Pigment print, Edition of 8
100 x 100cm

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Beauty and Artifice

Catalogue Essay by Dan Rule

“There’s a particular acuteness to the various strands, cues and counterpoints informing Petrina Hicks’ by now extensive body of work. Her highly keyed brand of hyperrealism is at once incisive in tenor and rich in historical, referential and allegorical depth.

An obvious vantage has long been that of the advertised image. Hicks’ subjects, palette and props are enveloped in a slickened and stunningly sickening sheen that is all too familiar. Augmented, buffed and polished, her works are traces of the highly aestheticised and fetishistic images that proliferate throughout the popular visual language. The skin, hair, clothing, surface and light assume an all but unsettling patina. The index is set askew amid the insidious markers of style and desire.

But Hicks’ highly constructed images aren’t mere transgressions of what has become a gleaming vernacular form. Every encroachment into the frame, every flat, luridly coloured backdrop has an implication and a consequence. In previous works, she has broached creation mythologies; she has recast religious subplots and in gloss and saccharine. Her 2011 series Hippy and the Snake – which comprised a painstakingly realised 25-minute video work alongside a collection of large-scale photographs – might have been read as a flirtation with Eve’s dalliance with the serpent in a re-imagined Garden of Eden.

Sex, birth and death also lurk amid Hicks’ latest series of images, presented as the central strand of her Selected Photographs exhibition. Set against a muted, neutral backdrop, these large-format photographs broach both the portrait and the still life, teasing out a taxonomy of sensuous allegories and sinister omens. In the somewhat aptly titled Bird Fingers, a young girl intently studies her fingertips, each of which is adorned with a tiny bird’s skull, as if a finger puppet or a jewel. That the girl’s expression is neither one of fear nor admiration – but rather, a measured intrigue – gives this work a fascinating twist. Her reaction to death is unlearned; she studies and surveys and pieces together the evidence. Another work, The Hand That Feeds, sees another young protagonist calmly offering her palm to a crow – an avian so often cast with the pall of death.

Venus, meanwhile, sees a woman hold a glossy, pink conch shell – fleshy and open – before her face as if a beacon. The accompanying Birth of Venus is a still life comprising a conflation of symbologies and references. An overfilled champagne glass perches beside the aforementioned shell, a string of pearls draped across and within its span. It delves deep into both art and socio-feminist history. While the pearl has long invoked purity and femininity throughout mythology, the conch engenders that of fertility. But these works also echo with a more contemporary resonance – one perhaps found in second-wave feminism. While the champagne might be read as an allusion to upward mobility and financial independence, the string pearls almost resemble birth control pills (perhaps an allegory for the emancipation of the female reproductive organs?). In New Age, a jagged crystal takes the place of pubic hair, resting hard and sharp against the softness and fragility of the flesh. This symbol for healing only works to amplify the vulnerability of the body. That Hicks’ engages with such themes in 2013 points to the folly of complacency. The notion that we can sleep in the wake of  feminism is bogus, null and void.

Indeed, Hicks’ retrieval and reinterpretation of mythologies and social precedents suggests that history repeats. While her images of children suggest minds unsullied by the scourge of learned prejudices and social mores, Venus and her like describe the continuum of the sexualised male gaze. That Hicks’ co-opts a visual language so often used to hock products and desires serves as the ultimate repost. Human complexity can continue to exist, even amid the cycle and the cynicism of the commercial artifice.”

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Installation view of 'Petrina Hicks: Selected Photographs, 2013' at Helen Gory Galerie

Installation view of 'Petrina Hicks: Selected Photographs, 2013' at Helen Gory Galerie

Installation view of 'Petrina Hicks: Selected Photographs, 2013' at Helen Gory Galerie

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Installation views of Petrina Hicks: Selected Photographs, 2013 at Helen Gory Galerie

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Petrina Hicks. 'Enigma' 2013

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Petrina Hicks
Enigma
2013
Pigment print, Edition of 8
100 x 100cm

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Petrina Hicks. 'The Hand That Feeds' 2013

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Petrina Hicks
The Hand That Feeds
2013
Pigment print, Edition of 8
100 x 220cm

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Petrina Hicks. 'The Beauty of History' 2010

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Petrina Hicks
The Beauty of History
2010
Pigment print, Edition of 8
85 x 85cm

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Petrina Hicks. 'New Age' 2013

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Petrina Hicks
New Age
2013
Pigment print, Edition of 8
100 x 220cm

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Helen Gory Galerie
25, St. Edmonds Road,
Prahran, Vic 3181

Opening hours:
Wed – Fri 11 – 5pm
Sat 10 – 4pm

Helen Gory Galerie website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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