Artist Spotlight: “Artivist”/Sculptor Courtney Mattison

Meet artivist Courtney Mattison. Artivist? Yes. In Mattison’s own words, she’s an “artivist”–artist + activist. As a sculptor, Mattison’s background in art and marine biology has inspired her to not just create artwork based on underwater ecosystems, but given her a desire to do something to use her gifts as an artist to draw attention to the current state of the world’s oceans.

Specializing in intricate hand-sculpted pieces, Mattison studied at both Skidmore College (where she holds an interdisciplinary degree in both marine ecology and ceramic sculpture), Brown University, and the Rhode Island Institute of Design. Her work has been featured at such institutions as National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration headquarters in Washington, DC, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Tang Museum, the Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center and the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art–in addition to being featured in numerous magazines such as Smithsonian Magazine, Colossal, and Origin Magazine. Mattison’s interest in marine biology has driven her to incorporate the dramatic intricacy of marine organisms into her work.

Mattison’s Aqueduct (2016), is made up of glazed stoneware and porcelain–not actual coral, though it may look like. Photo by Courtney Mattison, image c/o Colossal.

Specifically, Mattison is inspired by coral–coral reefs, the ability of incredibly small organisms to create such large, detailed, unique structures. According to her artist statement on her website, Mattison loves coral reefs “for being exotic, diverse and often venomous.” She also reasons that “[p]erhaps it’s because I’m small and I respect small creatures that build big beautiful things, but I feel like I relate to corals—arguably one of the least relatable animals—on a very deep level.” Mattison’s studies in coral have led her all over the world, and most notably to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Mattison’s Our Changing Oceans III (2014) led Smithsonian Magazine to ask, along with most of its viewers–is this coral reef in decline or recovering? Photo by Arthur Evans, image c/o Smithsonian Magazine.

Her delicate ceramic sculptures are startlingly lifelike. In several of her most recent series–namely Our Changing Seas III, and III, and Aqueduct–she’s drawn attention to both the natural beauty of corals reefs and their changing state (and that of the wider ocean ecosystems as well)  due to human-created waste. And the results are certainly stunning. The sheer detail of Mattison’s pieces make them look as if they were just borrowed from the ocean itself.

Close-up of Mattison’s Aqueduct. Photo by Courtney Mattison, image c/o Colossal.

As a self-termed artivist, Mattison’s motivations are twofold–to showcase the amazing natural beauty of the world’s coral reefs and to inspire people to take action in protecting and sustaining them. In Mattison’s own words, art does what “scientific data often cannot… Art can bring the beauty and peril of reefs above the surface and into view and can inspire us to protect the ocean.”

Close-up from Mattison’s Our Changing Oceans III. Photo by Arthur Evans, image c/o Colossal.

Learn more about Courtney Mattison’s work and exhibitions on her website.

Interested in what we do at the Art Docent Program? Here’s a bit more information about our program.

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