Seductive and Disturbing, Emma Pryde’s Sculptures Merge Innocence with Menace

Wisconsin-based artist Emma Pryde explores the sinister side of girlhood in the digital age, and her memories of growing up alongside the internet.

Castle, 2019
Castle, 2019

With the nineties making what seems like a never-ending comeback to visual culture, it is easy to forget about the anxieties that rose in the turn of the millennium. Emma Pryde’s work lies somewhere between the excitement and the undercurrent of fear in child ephemera of the time. As she put it in an interview with Gabrielle Jensen last year, “I just had such a bizarre feeling about life when I was a kid. A lot of the work is engaging with that sickness”.

Pryde constructs scenes out of an ongoing repertoire of characters, symbols and ornaments, all sharing a similar saccharine quality and cloying colour palette. She explains: “My work is very driven by found content—imagery, objects and symbols that already exist in the world, that feel dualistic in a sense. I am drawn to things that are beautiful or cute but at the same time sad or damaged.” Masks from Greek tragedy, dolls, candles and bows are pieced together in the endlessly appealing jigsaw puzzle of her laser-cut works.

  • SphynxIII
  • Agnus Dei
  • Left: Sphynx III, 2018. Right: Agnus Dei, 2019

Ceramic creatures that resemble Pokémon characters moulded from memory take their places on the floor, looking up at you with cartoon eyes and sticking out their tongues. Sculpted in slip-cast porcelain and coated in a holographic glaze, they offer a more hand-made companion to her slicker wall-based works. The clay is reminiscent of dough, or a kid’s birthday cake that’s been iced while slightly too hot.

Her ceramics also take on architectural forms, as her triptychs appear like stained glass windows or church altars, drawing a parallel between consumer culture and religion. Mixed with the more domestic dollhouses and birdcages, she conjures up the foundations of an alternative world—or as someone on Instagram commented—a “twin planet”.

“The clay is reminiscent of dough, or a kid’s birthday cake that’s been iced while slightly too hot”




Dotted with lambs, bunnies and ornaments that resemble Precious Moments figurines, her simulations become a place to explore these symbols, and how they have become sexualized over time. She describes this as “combining references through material, to create objects that communicate the darker undertones of a consumer value system that fetishizes youth, beauty, innocence…”

Decoration is taken seriously; butterfly stickers, love hearts and cherubs are added to everything without fail. What some might shun as overly pretty and embellished, Pryde doses with great importance. This might explain why her work lends itself so well to jewellery, which she makes from the offcuts of her laser-cut pieces, but also seems to work its way back into the sculptures. Consistently adorned with symbols and laced up with ribbon, Pryde shows us that everything can become a corset if you just poke holes in it.