Visualizing climate change through the fragile beauty of coral reefs

Los Angeles-based artist Courtney Mattison hand-crafted this one-of-a-kind ceramic sculptural vignette to celebrate Australia’s Coral Sea “Hope Spot.” As her 2009 TED Prize wish, Dr. Sylvia Earle—National Geographic Explorer in Residence and Time Magazine’s first “Hero for the Planet”—stated, “I wish you would use all means at your disposal…to ignite public support for a global network of marine protected areas, Hope Spots large enough to save and restore the ocean, the blue heart of the planet." Mattison’s Hope Spots series is an homage to Dr. Earle’s legacy, with the belief that art has a unique ability to highlight the fragile beauty of coral reefs and inspire conservation in the face of climate change.

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 to texture each piece by hand, often poking thousands of holes to mimic the repetitive growth of coral colonies. Individual pieces are finished and fired 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 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.

Courtney Mattison has been commissioned internationally to create work for permanent collections, including those of the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta and Lindblad Expeditions’ National Geographic Endurance ship. Her exhibition history includes solo shows at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art and the U.S. Department of Commerce headquarters. In 2020, the United Nations Postal Administration published Mattison’s work on a stamp to commemorate 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 Smithsonian magazine, Good Morning America, Oprah magazine and the BBC. She lives and works in Los Angeles.

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The winning bid is tax-deductible, minus the fair market value ($3,350).