For decades, Cj Jilek has devoted herself to making exceptional art. Between her extensive ceramic art and porcelain offerings that lean in biomorphic forms, there is no shortage of ideas for the artist.
Now she’s directing some of her efforts on giving back to the community. To that end, the San Bernardino County artist is nurturing a new exhibit that targets human rights and women’s rights specifically. Four upcoming art exhibits planned in the region. One of them, entitled “Systematic Erosion,” is currently running through December 17 at the American Museum of Ceramic Art in Pomona, and the second part exhibition will be featured in Ontario.
“My previous work as an exhibiting ceramic artist has been working with feminine identity through the use of botanical imagery,” Jilek says. “When I took on this project, it just kind of lent itself to having both an environmental feel and raising awareness around the idea of people’s eroding rights around the world right now. Calling it ‘Systematic Erosion’ created this nice tie between environmentalism and human rights.”
That link is drawing interest, but so is Jilek’s creativity. The show itself is based heavily on ceramics but there are mixed media elements incorporated.“I had previously been a two-dimensional art major with drawing and illustration and once I was able to switch over to that super tactile medium and create in three dimensions, all of my creative thoughts just started to accumulate, then be produced,” adds Jilek, who has been working in the medium for more than 25 years.
Originally from the Midwest, the artist used the world as her canvas. She appreciated the different nuances founded in landscapes and nature—from the sea and mountains to the deserts and floral arenas in between. After completing her MFA degree in 2010, Jilek traveled to Poland so she could work in the traditional ceramic factories of Boleslawiec.
She’d go on to teach ceramics in Santa Barbara for 10 years, appreciating the tactile experience and conceptual design.
“I’ve always been interested, of course, in women’s rights,” she says of the current exhibit. “And with so many changes happening around the world right now—rights to health care, body autonomy, and education—so much is changing for women and the LGBTQ+ groups that it felt like people need to be voicing their thoughts and making it clear where they stand on all of these changes happening.”
Recently, Jilek received a grant from the Inland Empire Community Foundation through the Creative Corps Inland SoCal Program, which offers grants to local, regional, and statewide organizations in 58 counties for unemployed and underemployed artists. The grants allow artists to create public awareness messages and projects in support of civic engagement and community participation.
To be sure, Jilek’s art—and in turn, her voice—invite engagement as they dazzle the eyes and sense with their unique shapes and styles. Her jewelry designs, for instance, sprang from experimenting with surface studies for her biomorphic sculptures. She spent a great deal of time looking at things on a microscopic level, then pondering “surfaces”—from skin pores and other cells. The works are made from porcelain beginning with a smooth form created in a press mold.
“The jewelry allows me to share my love of textures and the intricacies of surface in a wearable format,” she says.
The artist’s ceramic pieces are noteworthy, ranging in size and shape yet all of them embody inventive use of texture and creative style.
“It’s important anytime artists get extra funding to communicate,” she says. “It’s just so vital artists document their times and communicate what’s currently happening. Communicating your voice is necessary.”
Learn more about Cj Jilek at cjjilekartist.com.
This story originally appeared in the Press Enterprise November 2023.
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