The Fragile Beauty of Coral

Courtney Mattison creates intricately detailed and large-scale ceramic sculptural works inspired by the fragile beauty of coral reefs and the human-caused threats they face. She raises awareness for the protection of our blue planet, urging policy makers and the public to conserve our changing seas.

Afterglow (Our Changing Seas VI) by Courtney Mattison, 2018, glazed stoneware + porcelain, 230 x 260 x 50 cm

I love coral reefs for being exotic, diverse and often venomous. When creating my work I relate to the challenges faced by corals—arguably some of the least relatable animals—by quietly and methodically constructing large, delicate, stony structures that can change an ecosystem. Sadly, coral reefs are so threatened by our greenhouse gas emissions, pollution and overfishing that scientists agree they may cease to function by the end of this century. As a sculptor with a background in marine conservation science and policy, I believe art impacts our emotions and can move us to value the blue planet we live on in ways that scientific data often cannot. We protect what we care about and we care about what we know and understand. Art can bring the beauty and peril of coral reefs above the surface and into view and can inspire us to protect the ocean.

I hand-build enormous and intricate ceramic sculptural works inspired by the fragile beauty of coral reefs and the human-caused threats they face. I sculpt hollow forms by pinching together coils of clay and use simple tools like chopsticks and wire brushes to texture each piece by hand—often poking thousands of holes to mimic the repetitive growth of coral colonies. I finish and fire individual pieces using a color palette of glazes that I have developed to reflect the vibrant tones and textures of healthy marine invertebrate communities, often juxtaposed against white glazes to emphasize the stark contrast of coral bleaching on reefs stricken by climate change. It is essential that the medium of my work be ceramic, as calcium carbonate happens to be both a glaze ingredient and the compound precipitated by corals and mollusks to sculpt their stony structures. Not only does the chemical makeup of my work parallel that of a natural reef, but porcelain tentacles and the bodies of living corals share a sense of fragility that compels observers to look but not touch. By experiencing my work on a large wall, viewers may feel as if they are hovering over the seafloor and discovering details from every angle.

 

Confluence (Our Changing Seas V) by Courtney Mattison, 2018, glazed stoneware + porcelain, 846 x 570 x 50 cm. Image by Amanda Brooks for Art in Embassies, U.S. Department of State.

Confluence (Our Changing Seas V) by Courtney Mattison, 2018, glazed stoneware + porcelain, 846 x 570 x 50 cm (detail). Image by Amanda Brooks for Art in Embassies, U.S. Department of State.

 

Our Changing Seas III by Courtney Mattison, 2014, glazed stoneware + porcelain, 305 x 427 x 55 cm. Image by Arthur Evans for the Tang Museum.

Our Changing Seas III by Courtney Mattison, 2014, glazed stoneware + porcelain, 305 x 427 x 55 cm (detail). Image by Arthur Evans for the Tang Museum.

 

Malum Geminos by Courtney Mattison, 2019, glazed stoneware + porcelain, 213 x 635 x 55 cm. Image by Paul Mutino for the Florence Griswold Museum.

 

Aqueduct by Courtney Mattison, 2016, glazed stoneware and porcelain, 250 x 250 x 50 cm. Image by Glen McClure for Virginia MOCA.

Aqueduct by Courtney Mattison, 2016, glazed stoneware and porcelain, 250 x 250 x 50 cm (detail). Image by Glen McClure for Virginia MOCA.

 

Our Changing Seas I, a coral reef story by Courtney Mattison, 2011, glazed stoneware + porcelain + terra cotta; plywood, 455 x 270 x 100 cm. Installing in AAAS Gallery (© Thad Vickery)

Our Changing Seas I, a coral reef story by Courtney Mattison, 2011, glazed stoneware + porcelain + terra cotta; plywood, 455 x 270 x 100 cm. (© Thad Vickery)

 

Surface Tension by Courtney Mattison, 2020, 1280 x 853 cms

Surface Tension 8 by Courtney Mattison, 2020, 100 x 106 x 18 cm.
glazed stoneware + porcelain

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https://courtneymattison.com/

All images copyright and courtesy of Courtney Mattison (unless otherwise stated)

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