Petrina Hicks is no stranger to praise. One of Australian Art Collector magazine's 50 Most Collectable Artists, she has also received a handful of prestigious awards, not to mention a string of group shows. It’s surprising, then, to discover that Hippy and the Snake – which opened at Helen Gory Galerie this week – is her first ever solo show in Melbourne.

Hicks explains her inspiration for her new body of work – comprising large-scale photographs and a high-definition video work – as a investigation of the history of women and snakes, as represented through literature and art since ancient civilisation. “I wanted to take a particularly Australian perspective,” she says.

Hicks’ previous experience as a commercial photographer makes for a flawless execution of the photograph. No pixel goes unchecked: skin is immaculate, youthful girls are flawless with flowers, posing alongside vivid blue backgrounds that drown in shiny gloss.

Hicks’ video work, which was made in collaboration with Berlin-based sound artist Martin Backes, used the Phantom camera to create an effect that “stretches out like a photographic moment.” The work depicts a teenage girl surrounded by an artificial garden, with its plants and flowers bathed in a syrupy substance. The slowed effect is seductively appealing, yet sickly sweet. “There is a tension between the organic and synthetic,” says Hicks. “Ambiguity and duality is something I often aim for.

“On the surface, I use images that have an advertising aesthetic to explore its own language and codes, but it is the subtext in the content that works in opposition.” Despite the tension, or rather because of it, we can't help but look back for more.

Hippy and the Snake by Petrina Hicks runs until December 10 at Helen Gory Galerie.

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