Petrina Hicks began her career in commercial photography. Though she eventually left that world behind to join the critical discourse of contemporary art, she brought her previous occupation's style and skills with her to explore the creation and representation of female identity, beauty and advertorial modes. While holding onto a commercial aesthetic, Hicks subverts mainstream structures of production and consumption. Working primarily with large-scale photography and high-definition video, Hicks uses standards and structures of so-called 'perfection' to break the concept apart at its seams.
The soft, alluring pastel colour palette of Hicks' photographs speaks to a crossroads between innocence and experience. It also speaks to advertising's idealisation of youth, and youth's relationship to beauty and sexuality. Eerie yet alluring, the images are highly staged, crafted cornucopias of colour and symbolism. The heightened reality of the photographs' world stretches ideas of femininity and womanhood to their breaking point. Hicks also takes under her wing the vocabularies of traditional Western painting's mythology and symbolism to blend classical image culture with contemporary visual language.
In The Chrysalis (2011)—a six-minute single-channel high definition phantom video that plays on loop—the viewer watches the mouth of a young girl lick a group of pale pink flowers over and over again against a pale blue-green background. The flowers grow heavy and dribble with saliva. Works such as this exemplify Hicks' engagement with an advertorial culture quite literally dripping with consumerist lust. The video is both beautiful and incredibly disturbing. In the photograph Shenae and Jade (2005), consumerism is once more engaged with both literally and metaphorically; a young blonde girl with rosy freckled cheeks and hair tied back behind her ears, mascara covering her long eyelashes, dressed in a rose-tinged lace blouse against a rose-tinged background, is pictured eating a green parrot. The pastel gentleness of the image contrasts the violent action represented therein.
Photography has the potential to act as a journalistic, reportorial tool. However, it also has the potential to be a great storyteller and weaver of myths. The work of Petrina Hicks speaks to photography's duality on this plane. Truth and beauty battle in the photographs to present at once elegant and disconcerting narratives that engage in the lust and greed of consumer culture. Unusual for Hicks' photographs, Adams Apple (2013) presents a male model. He is seated in a pose reminiscent of ancient Grecian art, nude, muscles wet with oil. His seat is covered by a sweeping blue fabric, while a similar red-pink fabric hangs in the background. In the foreground, next to the model's feet sits a bright yellow vase. The colours of the photograph allude to the gaudy colours many now-unpainted marble Greek sculptures were originally painted in. The photograph points to the not-so-distant relationship between high art and advertising kitsch present both historically and in contemporary society.