Cj Jilek: Sculptural Botanist

There must have been a moment in the life of Cj Jilek where she stopped to smell the roses and then noticed the surrounding plants and just never looked back.  Jilek is a ceramic artist who is inspired by everything about plants, the colors, the textures, the shapes, and especially the biology surrounding them.  

Based in Pomona, CA Jilek works as the Assistant Studio Director at the American Museum of Ceramic Art, which gives her the opportunity to not just work with people excited about ceramics but also to work on her craft in a dedicated studio space.  But Jilek wasn't always settled in to her surroundings, she has traveled all over the world including Australia, South Korea and Poland where she worked at a traditional ceramic factory in Boleslawiec.  Jilek's work is a direct reflection of her environment and looking throughout her body of work, one can see it manifest.  Jilek states, "When I lived in the Midwest and flew over the agricultural areas my vessels referenced the aerial patterns of the fields, near the ocean it referenced sea life and the shoreline, in cities it’s more architectural."  In a way her sculptural pieces become tangible memories.

Another aspect to Jilek's work is a very sensual look that addresses  "sensuality, sexuality, attraction, desire, eroticism and acceptance" all elements that come to mind when one gazes upon Jilek's pieces.  In fact Jilek's work also holds a higher purpose for her pieces, she states "I'd like for our natural sexuality to not carry the shame and stigma that is attached to it in so many societies and cultures."  But Jilek's sculptures are not solely feminine she also creates masculine pieces  "When I pair two sculptures together I’m playing with the relationship and tension between forms to elicit the apprehension and anticipation that can arise with human attraction" said Jilek.

Never one to sit still Jilek now embarks on a trip back to Australia, this time as a presenter at Stepping Up: 14th Annual Australian Ceramics Triennial 2015. To off set the costs Jilek began a kick-starter campaign to raise funds, which ends June 11, 2015.  However the hosts of the conference, the Australian Ceramics Association, suffered a fire recently so Jilek has graciously dedicated a small portion of the funds raised to help the ACA recover after such a devastating fire. 

Jilek will be teaching Mold Making/Slip Casting classes this fall at the American Museum of Ceramic Art in Pomona, CA.  She will also be doing workshops at the following: 
Stepping Up: 14th Australian Ceramics Triennial 2015, July 9-11, 2015, Canberra, ACT, Australia
Gold Coast Potters Association, July 19, 2015, Benowa, OLD Australia
Auckland Studio Potters, August 8 & 9, 2015, Auckland, New Zealand
Northern Rivers Pottery Supplies, August 1& 2, 2015, Lismore, NSW, Australia
Palos Verdes Art Center, Sept 12 &13, 2015, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA

Upcoming Shows:

California Now, June 14-Aug 21, 2015 at Richmond Art Center, Richmond, CA
McGroaty Arts Center Presents: 12th Annual Ceramics Invitational Exhibition, June 13- June 27, 2015 Tujunga, CA 
Coastline Community College Art Gallery, July 18 – August 18, 2015, Newport Beach, CA
History in the Making, Sep 4- 25, 2015, Carbondale Clay Center, Carbondale, CO
Stepping Up Ceramics Conference & Exhibition July 9-11, Canberra, Australia

Jilek works out of her studio space at the American Museum of Ceramic Art in Pomona, CA where she is the Assistant Studio Director.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Jilek works out of her studio space at the American Museum of Ceramic Art in Pomona, CA where she is the Assistant Studio Director.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Jilek  works on a cup in her studio at the American Museum of Ceramic Art in Pomona, CA.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Jilek works on a cup in her studio at the American Museum of Ceramic Art in Pomona, CA.  Photo © Aimee Santos

The cups  Jilek  creates have a unique style to them that emphasizes the organic nature of plants.  Photo © Aimee Santos

The cups Jilek creates have a unique style to them that emphasizes the organic nature of plants.  Photo © Aimee Santos

'Quiet Openings' 2009 by Cj  Jilek .  Image courtesy of the artist.

'Quiet Openings' 2009 by Cj Jilek.  Image courtesy of the artist.

A closer look at one of  Jilek 's cups shows how much time and effort is taken to create detail and form.  Photo © Aimee Santos

A closer look at one of Jilek's cups shows how much time and effort is taken to create detail and form.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Utilizing wet porcelain  Jilek  dabs dots onto her forms to give it more of texture, one of the many steps taken to create her pieces.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Utilizing wet porcelain Jilek dabs dots onto her forms to give it more of texture, one of the many steps taken to create her pieces.  Photo © Aimee Santos

A detail of 'Calyx 3' from  Jilek 's  2012 collection.  Photo © Aimee Santos

A detail of 'Calyx 3' from Jilek's  2012 collection.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Two of  Jilek 's pieces, 'Tongue & Cheek' and 'Anther Series' lay finished while she works in her studio.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Two of Jilek's pieces, 'Tongue & Cheek' and 'Anther Series' lay finished while she works in her studio.  Photo © Aimee Santos

The creation of  Jilek 's larger pieces requires a session of three straight hours of work in order to maintain the structure of the porcelain and to prevent cracking and balance.  Photo © Aimee Santos

The creation of Jilek's larger pieces requires a session of three straight hours of work in order to maintain the structure of the porcelain and to prevent cracking and balance.  Photo © Aimee Santos

'Anthoycyanin' 2012.  Image courtesy of the artist.  

'Anthoycyanin' 2012.  Image courtesy of the artist.  

Molds help  Jilek  create the initial forms for her biomorphic sculptures and saves time as well.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Molds help Jilek create the initial forms for her biomorphic sculptures and saves time as well.  Photo © Aimee Santos

'Anther Series 6' 2010  Image courtesy of the artist.  

'Anther Series 6' 2010  Image courtesy of the artist.  

Jilek  uses plaster molds to help balance the setting of her sculpture during a work day in the studios of the American Museum of Ceramic Art in Pomona, CA.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Jilek uses plaster molds to help balance the setting of her sculpture during a work day in the studios of the American Museum of Ceramic Art in Pomona, CA.  Photo © Aimee Santos

'Perianth' 2014  Image courtesy of the artist.

'Perianth' 2014  Image courtesy of the artist.

Tools of the trade and then some.   Jilek , like many ceramic artists, utilize a variety of tools to get the texture they want.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Tools of the trade and then some.  Jilek, like many ceramic artists, utilize a variety of tools to get the texture they want.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Jilek  presses a dowel stick into each piece giving it a unique look and carrying as much of the mark of  Jilek  as possible.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Jilek presses a dowel stick into each piece giving it a unique look and carrying as much of the mark of Jilek as possible.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Jilek  wears one of her signature necklaces while creating more for her kickstarter campaign.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Jilek wears one of her signature necklaces while creating more for her kickstarter campaign.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Cindy Jackson: Empathic Sculptor

As one stands face to face with the sculptures of Cindy Jackson one feels a bit of self reflection happening.  Walking around them one feels small yet there is a familiarity in them.  Jackson creates these nude male figures that are covered with the objects of our desires.   It's hard to believe, yet almost telling in a way, that Jackson once worked as a sculptor for Hasbro and McDonalds.  You know?  The toys in your happy meals?  She is also skilled as a painter and has worked as a graphic designer.  Can you see the connection now?

All of Jackson's skills throughout her life have lead to this.  For without those experience she would not be able to make the kind of work you will see before you in Palm Springs this February 14th.  Yet the final catalyst that created a new excitement for her was a sculpture she titled 'Yo-Yo Man' and if you can visualize what it might look like you would be right.  Jackson utilized the rule 'Ask for forgiveness instead of permission' when hanging one of her Yo-Yo Men over the LA River (see image below.)  This exposure to the public and her art living outside showed her a new level of where her art could go.

To see her piece in person check out her work at the Palm Springs Convention Center this February 12-15th.

In '(Not Quite) Salvation’ the sculptures almost seem to be beckoning to the heavens and with your religious upbringing is there a connection to their position and a possible message to the viewer?

The show (Not Quite) Salvation is an exploration into ways in which we, as a modern society, seek ‘salvation’. True, I was brought up in a very religious household. And yes, I am sure that it has strongly influenced the way I look at the world. I take a pretty critical view of not only organized religion, but also the way in which we tend to follow others.  Speaking broadly I do think that our culture (all cultures really from the past and forever onward) will be seeking.  We might not always be seeking the same thing, but we are forever looking for something to take us to a higher place. Perhaps it’s because I live in Los Angeles, but it’s apparent to me that we seek our higher self by striving for money (or at least the appearance of money) - and that manifests itself in the lust and constant consumption of brands that project affluence. Our “religion” manifests itself in the surface of things. 

Is it your intention to direct the viewer towards an inner reflection of their spiritual side? Noting that religion, faith, spirituality has always been a touchy subject matter in the art world.

No, not really. It’s not my place to direct anybody to anything really. That’s their job when they look at my art. I’m just voicing what I feel and see. I agree with the axiom that the more personal something is, the more universal it is. Art asks the big questions- and religion, faith, spirituality, sex, love, are the big questions.

Having begun in Graphic Design then studying Painting and now you are a Sculptor can you pinpoint the catalysts that drew you to transition from one medium to the other?  And can you elaborate on how each has contributed to your current work?

Graphic Design taught me to meet deadlines. It also taught me to look at everything in a connected way and to try to distill visual information so that it not only communicates broadly but succinctly. Leaving that as I did to return to art school and study fine art/painting, I began to think about making art that spoke in a much more personal way. Good design is good design no matter what form it takes, but fine art is very different that graphic design. If graphic design is the clothing, then fine art is the skin. I should have known that I would have loved sculpting, because I love building things and I love problem solving engineering challenges. So when I finally did discover sculpture, I went at it full bore and never really looked back. 

Can you speak to the inclusion of animals in your life and how they have contributed to your art practice?

Well they are constantly underfoot, they make me take breaks that I otherwise might not, and they eat my clay. HA!

Why make such big sculptures?  What do they accomplish that other mediums or methods do not?

I love the physicality of sculpture and of working large. For me it carries a power that I don’t experience when, for instance, I look at a painting. There was a time not too long ago when I was hanging my sculptures of Yo-Yo Man on the streets of Los Angeles and just leaving them there. For me, it was the act of taking a work of art out of the precious nature of an art gallery and instead incorporating it into our everyday world just to see what it would do. I very quickly came to realize that the size of the work and the way that it activated the space around it was as much a part of the work as the sculpture itself…which led me to thinking about installations…

The Salvation Men need to be big. My LV Angel needs to be life-size. My Hanging Jesus Swag Lamps need to be smaller than life-size.  The size I choose in making my sculpture is all about the psychology of how we perceive things in relation to our bodies. That being said, certainly everything doesn’t need to be gigantic. My savings account can’t take that. HA!

'Yo-Yo Man' over the LA River.  Photo ©  Ron Resnick/Blurrylens Photography

'Yo-Yo Man' over the LA River.  Photo © Ron Resnick/Blurrylens Photography

In general what would make the artist’s life easier when involving installations in public places?

An artist’s life in general would be easier if we had broader public support and acknowledgement for what we do. Installing work in public places is at best an act of blind faith and at worst a risk of getting sued and losing everything. There are so many departments to go through to get permission to do anything in public and the process of permission is so long, complicated, and full of people in places of decisions who won’t allow anything that they don’t immediately understand, that the only recourse artists have left is to put work up without permits and without permission. That system needs to change. Our city could have a much more humane face if artists could contribute more freely in the public sphere.

Much can be read into your Yo-Yo Man sculpture, being that large portions of your sculptures are men.  And you are female.  Is there a reason why you create more male sculptures?  Is it the physical strength or another trait?

Ha! Well. I guess I need to sculpt more women. True, the last two bodies of work have represented men. Yo-Yo Man started off as a completely different sculpture. It started as a sculpture of a woman holding a tiny little working version of my big Yo-Yo Man. The piece, to me, was about relationships and how we use each other. One day I was sitting and staring at the sculpture and began to realize that I could say that and even more by getting rid of the woman and by making the yo-yo really large. Then it talked of the precariousness of life and how we are held on this earth by a thread. The Salvation Men needed to be men because a female on her knees means very different things. Art history (and society really) has taught us to objectify women’s bodies and to sexualize them. Meanwhile male bodies signify power. One has to be careful with such things… Does anyone ever ask male sculptors why they sculpt women?

What work can we look forward to seeing in the coming year?

Feb 12-15th I will have a large installation of (Not Quite) Salvation- The Ascension at the Palm Springs Art Fair. (BTW- there is a female component to this work. HA!) This installation rests somewhere between the genre of religious iconographic paintings and a good Bergdorf Goodman window display… which is where I’m heading these days. I’m thinking about space and how the sculptures I make take on more meaning when I surround it in an environment of my making.