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Petrina Hicks: Bleached Gothic is the first major survey exhibition of celebrated Australian photographer Petrina Hicks. Over her fifteen-year career, the Sydney based artist has gained a strong reputation for her enigmatic and multi-layered photographs.

Announced at the National Gallery of Victoria, the exhibition includes more than forty photograph and video works spanning the period 2003 to 2019. Seen together for the first time, Hicks’s shimmering and often hyperreal compositions convey the inherent ambiguity and complexity of the female experience.

In her contemporary art practice, Hicks draws on the aesthetics and techniques she developed during her previous career as a commercial photographer. She recreates the allure of advertising and portraiture in her impeccably pristine images and, at first glance, Hicks’s works can appear to be a celebration of the perfect; a vision of bodily utopianism augmented by her technically pristine lighting and printing. However, on closer viewing the hairline cracks become evident. Hicks draws us towards considering bodily marks – the fading bruise on the flesh, the slight wound on the skin, the tousled hair, the missing limb – as her seemingly faultless models occasionally show the signs of our inexorable transit towards decay.

The tension between seduction and danger, familiarity and strangeness, intimacy and distance are present in many of Hicks’s works.

The tension between seduction and danger, familiarity and strangeness, intimacy and distance are present in many of Hicks’s works. Women, girls, and animals are recurring subjects and Hicks takes inspiration from mythology and art history. In one work, a white snake coiling around a pale arm evokes biblical notions of purity, while a reclining nude cradling aged ceramic vessels is a play on a classical Greek motif. Hicks explores the disquieting power of mythologies and has referred to her own work as having a ‘bleached Gothic’ sensibility, suggesting it possesses mysterious Gothic elements stripped of their characteristic darkness.

Hicks photographs her subjects against simple backgrounds and regularly returns to the same models and motifs. These include the albino singer and performer Lauren, whose ethereal appearance has become one of the most recognisable elements of Hicks’s work.

Also included in the exhibition are five video works that play with the concept of slow time. In these videos, Hicks moves just beyond the two-dimensionality of the photograph, stretching out a single moment in an act of durational photography. Presented side by side, the photographs and the videos appear remarkably similar, but the video heightens the viewers’ sense of unease, transforming what in real life might be a beautiful moment into something menacing when replayed in a measured slow loop.

Tony Ellwood AM, Director, National Gallery of Victoria said, ‘We are proud to present the first in-depth exploration of the work of Australian artist Petrina Hicks, providing audiences unprecedented insight into her work and place in contemporary photography.’

This solo exhibition follows recent major photography surveys at NGV including Darren Sylvester, Polly Borland, William Wegman and Erieta Attali and kicks off the next season of solo exhibitions, showcasing the work of Australian designer Lucy McCrae and photographer Polixeni Papapetrou later this year.

The NGV has published a large-scale and extensively illustrated monograph to coincide with the exhibition, detailing the artist’s work to date and juxtaposing Hick’s work with the poetry of Sylvia Plath.

Petrina Hicks: Bleached Gothic is on display from Friday 27 September 2019 to Sunday 29 March 2020 at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia at Federation Square.

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