Artist sculpts huge ceramic coral reef to highlight the threat facing our oceans

For her series Changing Seas III, artist Courtney Mattison – featured previously – has crafted a large-scale ceramic coral reef installation to celebrate the exotic beauty of coral reefs while highlighting the threats they face.

Via [Behance]( | All images © Arthur Evans for the Tang Museum except where indicated in the caption

Via Behance | All images © Arthur Evans for the Tang Museum except where indicated in the caption

This particular piece explores the rapid transition that corals throughout the tropics and subtropics are making from healthy, colourful and diverse to sickened and bleached as a result of human-caused climate change.

Courtney explains: "At its heart, it celebrates my favourite aesthetic aspects of a healthy coral reef surrounded by the sterile white skeletons of bleached corals swirling like the rotating winds of a cyclone. There is still time for corals to recover even from the point of bleaching if we act quickly to decrease the threats we impose. Perhaps if my work can influence viewers to appreciate the fragile beauty of our endangered coral reef ecosystems, we will act more wholeheartedly to help them recover and even thrive."

Courtney uses simple tools like chopsticks and paintbrushes to sculpt and texture each piece by hand – often poking thousands of holes to mimic the repetitive growth of coral colonies.

She adds: "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."

To find out more about Courtney and the project, visit Or visit her personal site at

Photo by Courtney Mattison

Photo by Courtney Mattison


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