Artist Jessica Harrison and Her Dark Little World

Artist Jessica Harrison works in a place where most of us would be afraid to even look. But the result of her labor forces us to gaze into the darkness as if  into a  frozen-in-time scene of the macabre, a little fantasy place of dark dreams like tiny sparks of stars.

Marilyn, by Jessica Harrison (from the website of the artist,

My maternal grandmother, Alice Kirtley, collected dolls, but she also collected figurines of beautiful ladies in wait, in mid-waltz, in mid-swoon. I played with them every time I would stay with her, making up odd little narratives that took place in a world I created that was the opposite of my reality as a young Midwestern girl. In my constructed world, they mastered love and happiness, and beyond this, they mastered timeless and ageless beauty. Their reward for figuring out these incomprehensible tasks was to live in a world where they wore gowns all day and all night long, they danced, talked, loved, and acted coy to a point of artful melodrama.

Jessica Harrison’s figurines are exactly like the ones I played with as a child. The exception of course was that my grandmother’s figurines still had the tops of their heads, their brains, their intestines intact inside of them.

Grace, by Jessica Harrison (from the website of the artist,

Though these figurines may not across-the-board be considered “dolls”, I do believe that most doll collectors also possess a collection of languidly beautiful lady figurines and/or knick knacks that also encourage imagination on the part of the viewer.

My overall fascination with dolls is their innate existence that evokes play and imagination on the part of the participant. That said, I will contend that the work of Jessica Harrison has a doll-ness, an evocation of play, speculation, a seduction to the imagination.

Harrison’s 2009 work seems, to me, to be an evolution to this world where her figurines would appear, where they may live in an anything-goes imagination.

Cabinet, by Jessica Harrison (from the website of the artist,

The artist’s fleshy, mixed media curios and chairs from 2009 are there, in my imagination, in order for her figurines to have a shelter, a place to dance, swoon, and love. The dark look of this skin-like furniture look that they would belong in the mansions of the figurines, fitting in gloriously with the darkness of the figures themselves. The nonchalant aura of the women with an array of horror imposed upon them fits nicely with the equally-nonchalant character of furnishings that look to be created from hair-lined skins.

Harrison’s technique is at least as strong and sumptuous as her imagination. I find myself desiring these figurines. I find myself wanting to enter their world if not as a participant among the lovely horror, but as a voyeur desiring to begin to understand them.

Jessica Harrison’s work has the sordid advantage of being a part of a dollhouse where the dark may go to play.



  • Susan Snodgrass wrote:

    HI Carrie,

    Great subject! My comments here are more general than about the specifics of each post. VIsually this works well and you have lots of compelling images. The links are easy to access but in some cases I wanted more of your own research on your subjects, particularly this one, rather than being directed to Wikipedia. In your intro about the site, I would like more context about the art historical and cultural phenomena, as you say, of the use of dolls by artists, writers, designers, etc. (Some of the language in this intro is a bit awkward by the way.) A lot of your discussion is quite personal — your experiences with the works vs a more critical point of view. And since you move rather fluidly between genres and figures, many of whom may not familiar to your readers, I suggest a little more bio and background to set up each entry.

  • Carrie–

    I really, really enjoy this post! I love that you were able to find a subject matter that has quite obviously inspired you. This makes your posts much more entertaining to read, because I can feel your passion for these pieces. I feel like I’m being educated on something I know nothing about in such a humorous and engaging manner–keep it up!

  • Brandon Goei wrote:

    You do a very good job of highlighting a single artist in this post. Overall, I feel like your writing is a very intense affair – not necessarily that your writing is a matter of life and death, per se, but that your imagery and emphasis on the senses take their place at the forefront of your site.

    The descriptions you place on these already powerful images of damaged porcelain dolls make for a very deeply disturbing afterthought and something that no doubt leaves your readers thinking for a while.

    While I was at first surprised at your decision to shift the focus of your site to dolls, now I think I know what you’re looking to achieve. Your writing is similar to your subjects – rigid and terse but beautiful, and capable of unimaginable depth and profoundness when applied to the right environment.

  • Sarah Taylor wrote:

    I have to be honest, when you told us you were creating a blog about dolls and doll artwork I was a little skeptical, mostly because I am kind of afraid of dolls. That being said, you took a subject that I have absolutely no interest in whatsoever and created a beautiful, intriguing blog that I enjoyed reading. Your writing is delicate, fluid, and beautiful, I can tell you are a poet through your passionate examination of the dolls in these posts.

  • I enjoyed the imagery on your blog as much as the writing–pensive and delicate. I enjoyed reading your personal experience with the dolls, which explains your passion about this unusual subject. You certainly turned this unfamiliar art form into something I’m curious about and eager to learn!

  • When I first saw the pictures of Harrison’s work, I was a little underwhelmed: quite frankly, mutilating a figurine seemed a little obvious to me. However, your writing about the notion of play in Harrison’s got me to reconsider my initial opinion, and isn’t that what art criticism is all about? Good job.

  • Carrie- you have a way with the subject matter here that I think produces an almost nostalgic, olden-time atmosphere equal to the subjects themselves. Your poetry background is evident, as all the descriptions crackle with a verse-like homage.

  • […] I started coming upon the work of an artist named Jessica Harrison, who does the most wonderfully twisted things with porcelain […]

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