Courtney Mattison: Ocean advocate and artist using ceramics to depict the fragile beauty of coral reefs and threats it faces

Sculptor and ocean advocate Courtney Mattison creates ceramic installations that depict the fragile beauty of coral reefs and the human-caused threats they face to “move us to value the blue planet we live on in ways that scientific data often cannot”.

In her Our Changing Seas series, Courtney Mattison provides an artistic impression of what is happening at sea with corals, particularly coral bleaching.

The huge dramatic installations feature beautiful clusters of coral, anemones and sea sponges – colourful, vibrant and healthy – which are in stark contrast to the “sterile white skeletons of bleached corals swirling like the rotating winds of a cyclone” that surround them.

The LA-based artist’s choice of material – notably ceramic – is one that she makes with conscious awareness, even drawing parallels to the fragile ceramic, which if not handled carefully is prone to breakage, just like the delicate nature of coral.

Explaining the process of constructing her giant intstallations, Courtney Mattison said: “I use simple tools like chopsticks and paint brushes to sculpt and texture each piece by hand – often poking thousands of holes to mimic the repetitive growth of coral colonies.

“Individual coral polyps precipitate calcium carbonate from seawater to form stony skeletons that, over time, grow atop one another to compose the vast, complex structures we know as reefs. It therefore feels essential that the medium of my work be ceramic, as calcium carbonate also happens to be a common ingredient in clay and glaze materials.

“Not only does the chemical structure of my work parallel that of a natural reef, but brittle ceramic anemone tentacles and coral branches break easily if improperly handled, similar to the delicate bodies of living reef organisms.”


By drawing attention to the issues such as coral bleaching, Courtney Mattison hopes to promote coral conservation and encourage people to seek a solution. She said: “It is possible for coral reefs to recover even from the point of bleaching if we unite and act quickly enough to decrease the threats we impose. Perhaps if more people appreciate spectacular reefs, we will act more wholeheartedly to preserve them for future generations.”

Images: Courtney Mattison

Courtney Mattison

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyles including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at

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