Courtney Mattison

Courtney Mattison

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. 

Photos by Jeff Minton and Ben Hamilton
Mattison has been commissioned to create work for permanent collections including those of the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Art in Embassies, Lindblad Expeditions’ National Geographic Endurance ship and private patrons. Her work has been exhibited at prominent venues including the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, the American Museum of Ceramic Art, the U.S. Department of Commerce headquarters and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
In 2020, the United Nations Postal Administration included Mattison’s work on a postage stamp to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Born in 1985 and raised in San Francisco, Mattison received an interdisciplinary Bachelor of Arts degree in marine ecology and ceramic sculpture from Skidmore College in 2008 and a Master of Arts degree in environmental studies from Brown University with thesis credits at the Rhode Island School of Design in 2011. Her work has been featured by international outlets including Smithsonian Magazine, Good Morning America, Oprah Magazine, CNN Indonesia, BBC World Service and Science Magazine. She lives and works in Los Angeles.

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.

Artist Statement

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.
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