“The coral reef is a microcosm of a macrocosm,” says paper artist Rogan Brown. “What is happening to the reefs today will ultimately happen to the planet tomorrow unless action is taken.” Through new paper sculptures comprised of delicately fringed sea creatures, Brown (previously) creates a striking visual display of the disastrous impacts of the climate crisis on marine life, showing how issues like coral bleaching can radiate outward into the wider world.
In “Ghost Coral,” two circular reliefs comprised of intricate paper cuttings splay outward, layering the fragile lifeforms sliced from stark, white paper. These monochromatic pieces contrast their vibrant counterparts, which are nestled into the protective center of one of the masses. The other work, titled “Coral Garden,” is Brown’s interpretation of the heat-resistant organisms that scientists grow and plant in deteriorating patches for rejuvenation, and he places bright, healthy creatures, which are enclosed in transparent bubbles, within swaths of spindly, pale creatures. To create both pieces, Brown follows the same meticulous process, which involves drawing the organisms, cutting them out with a laser, and carefully hand-painting and mounting them into their final, sprawling forms. “The fragility and delicacy of paper seem to fit perfectly with the subject it is describing,” he tells Colossal.
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Two new site-specific pieces by Courtney Mattison (previously) position ceramic sculptures of corals, sponges, and anemones in a swirling cluster of ocean diversity. Titled “Revolve” and “Our Changing Seas VII,” the wall reliefs are the latest additions to the Los Angeles-based artist’s body of work, which advocates for ecological preservation by highlighting the beauty and fragile nature of marine invertebrates.
In both installations, Mattison contrasts the vibrant, plump tentacles of healthy creatures with others sculpted in white porcelain to convey the devastating effects of the climate crisis, including widespread bleaching. Her recurring subject matter is becoming increasingly urgent, considering recent reports that estimate that 14 percent of the world’s coral population has been lost in the last decade alone.
Each of the lifeforms is hand-built and pocked with minuscule grooves and textured elements—she shares this meticulous process on Instagram—and once complete, the individual sculptures are assembled in sweeping compositions that radiate outward in shifting gradients. “Water connects us all, from the lush banks of Lawsons Fork Creek to the icy glaciers of the Arctic and glittering reefs of Southeast Asia. Life on Earth is dependent on healthy oceans,” she shares about “Revolve.” “The swirling design of this work is inspired by these connections and patterns, with revolving forms repeated in nature through hurricanes, seashells, ocean waves, and galaxies.”
Mattison’s solo exhibition Turn the Tide is on view at Highfield Hall & Gardens in Massachusetts through October 31 before it travels to the New Bedford Whaling Museum, where it will be through May 1, 2022. You explore a larger archive of the artist’s marine works on Behance and her site.
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From swirls of eucalyptus leaves to perfectly round bodies of coral, the sculptural pieces by Newcastle-based artist Meredith Woolnough (previously) depict a range of textured, organic shapes. Each elaborately crafted work is drawn through free-motion embroidery, which involves using the most basic stitches on a sewing machine and moving a swath of water-soluble material around the needle. Once the form is complete, Woolnough dissolves the fabric base to expose the delicate, mesh-like structure, a process filmmaker Flore Vallery-Radot follows in the studio visit above.
The resulting works either stand alone as sprawling clusters of veins and branches or are strung into larger displays, like the “carpet of embroidery” Woolnough is working on currently that involves more than 1,000 small pieces threaded together. No matter the size, each piece contrasts thick lines with fine, sparse patches to give the leaves or rocky formations shape, and the artist describes the balance between the two methods:
Often when I depict solid subject matter, like coral which is often quite hard, I will stitch my design with dense areas of stitching. I like to put lots of small overlapping stitches very close together to form a solid structure where you can’t clearly see the individual stitches. This dense structure is needed to help the final embroidery hold its shape once I remove the water-soluble base material I stitch onto. With this dense stitching, I can also achieve subtle colour blending as I change thread colours.
Alongside her practice, Woolnough teaches a variety of workshops and released a book back in 2018 titled Organic Embroidery that details her processes. Some of her smaller works will be included in a group exhibition at The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, which opens online on October 16. You also can find her available pieces on her site and watch for updates on Instagram. (via The Kids Should See This)
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Artist Stéphanie Kilgast (previously) envisions a vibrant, post-apocalyptic world overgrown with coral, fungi, and lush moss. Using cheap devices and disposable containers that tend to outlast their original function as her base, Kilgast creates painted-clay assemblages that are teeming with fantastical colors and texture: mushrooms sprout from an empty paint tube, sea creatures envelop a crushed can, and plant life cloaks a pair of headphones with whimsical botanicals.
Each of the works contrasts the enduring manufactured object with natural growth, imagining a universe that’s simultaneously devoid of humanity and still marred by its rampant consumption habits. “In that sense my work is joyous. I remove the root of the problem, us, and let all the other species just grow over our mistakes,” she shares. “Nature itself is full of bright colors. It’s inherently beautiful, and my work is an ode to all the living and existing species, (except) for us. Hope dies last, so I still hope my work opens up discussion, thinking, and eventually change.”
Currently based in Vannes, France, Kilgast has exhibitions at Comoedia in Brest, France, Modern Eden in San Francisco, and three at Melbourne’s Beinart Gallery slated for 2022. She also shares much of her process on YouTube and Instagram.
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From polyester, nylon, and cotton, Japanese artist and designer Mariko Kusumoto fabricates sculptural forms that resemble the creatures and everyday objects she finds most fascinating. She uses a proprietary heat-setting technique to mold the ubiquitous materials into undulating ripples, honeycomb poufs, and even tiny schools of fish that are presented in elegant and fanciful contexts. Whether a pastel coral reef or a fantastical bracelet filled with mushrooms, rosettes, and minuscule bicycles, Kusumoto’s body of work, which includes standalone objects and wearables, uses the ethereal qualities of the translucent fibers to make even the banalest forms appear like they’re part of a dream.
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Prior to sculpting the prickly lifeforms that comprise her Marine Abstracts series, Marguerita Hagan plunged into the waters surrounding the Cayman Islands to get a glimpse of the coral and sponges inhabiting the region. “My research is important to my work, whether from seeing firsthand like diving, which manifested the sponge and coral-inspired Marine Abstracts, or visiting labs and working with my scientist friends,” the Philadelphia-based artist says. “I am passionate about learning, and I immerse myself into the life of each piece/species.”
Mimicking the porous bodies of the aquatic creatures, the resulting works are amorphous in shape and hand-built in sweeping gestures from low-fire clay. Hagan subjects the ceramic forms to anywhere between three and eight rounds of firing in the kiln before they’re airbrushed with pastel glazes. Pocked with holes and covered in tiny bristles arranged with meticulous precision, each piece can take months to complete.
When presented in a gallery space, Hagan contextualizes many of her works by pairing them with animated projections, creating holistic installations that situate individual sculptures within a larger ecosystem. It’s a way to generate conversation about interdependence and the need to protect these fragile forms, the artist says, explaining the concept further:
Microscopic marine organisms form the basis of all life on our planet and connect in exquisite systems or colonies. These one-cell plankton gems, our primary producers provide over 50% of the oxygen for the planet with light from the sun. Rich diversity and reciprocal sharing power thriving communities and environments. This light-giving flow has enabled all life to thrive for eons…We are in a time of epic shifts and are responsible for the changes needed now. The work intends to uplift spirits, awareness, renewable action and timely sustainable investments for all life.
You can see many of the abstracted pieces shown here, alongside dozens of Hagan’s sculptures, as part of Biospheres, which is on view both in-person and virtually at HOT•BED in Philadelphia through May 8. For a larger collection of the artist’s works, check out her site and Instagram.
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