Handle With Care

This artist’s handmade porcelain reefs are almost as fragile as the real thing.

February 22, 2016

Arthur EvansPhoto: Arthur EvansCourtney Mattison stands in front of "Our Changing Seas III"

Courtney Mattison’s large-scale ceramic coral reef installations are a labor of love. The artist-slash-ocean-advocate (Mattison likes to call herself an ocean “artivist”) shapes every branch and ridge of her porcelain colonies by hand, using chopsticks to poke thousands of holes for just the right texture and meditating on how the calcium carbonate found in the glaze is the same building block used by the polyps themselves. “I enjoy feeling like a coral,” Mattison writes in her artist statement, “patiently and methodically constructing large, delicate, stony structures that can change an ecosystem.”

Delicate is the adjective that Mattison most hopes viewers of her art will take with them. Her works, which have been exhibited at the headquarters of NOAA and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, are “inspired by the fragile beauty of coral reefs and the human-caused threats they face.” These pictures come from “Sea Change,” her new solo show currently on display at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art until April 17. The sprawling Our Changing Seas III, above, has a vibrantly colored center, but the outer fringes are the ghostly white of a bleached reef. Mattison understands all too well that the decisions we make about how to treat our Blue Planet could make or break her beloved corals.

Photo: Arthur EvansDetail of "Our Changing Seas III"

Photo: Arthur EvansDetail of "Our Changing Seas III"

Photo: Courtney Mattison"Hope Spots, Micronesian Islands II"

Photo: Courtney Mattison"Hope Spots, Outer Seychelles II"

Photo: Glen McClure"Aqueduct"

onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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