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Ocean 'Artivist' Creates Breathtaking Coral Reef Sculptures

By Clara Chaisson

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."

Courtney Mattison stands in front of "Our Changing Seas III." Photo credit: Arthur Evans

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 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 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.

Detail of "Our Changing Seas III." Photo credit: Arthur Evans

Detail of "Our Changing Seas III." Photo credit: Arthur Evans

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

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

"Aqueduct." Photo credit: Glen McClure

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