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Jill Piper: Shadow and Light

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Jill Piper's photograph of the Atea Ring's blissful Champlain Valley setting.
Jill Piper’s photograph of the Atea Ring Gallery’s blissful Champlain Valley setting.

“Born a Lake Michigan girl, brought to life by Lake Champlain!” ~ Jill Piper

Nestled into rolling meadows between Westport and Wadhams, the Atea Ring Gallery is an almost too perfect venue for Essex, NY artist Jill Piper’s current photography exhibition. Gallery visitors enter a seamless pastoral experience where art and gardens and landscapes merge; all else vanishes.

Is this bucolic place a fantasy? Is it even real?

Atea Ring Gallery

Many Essex residents and visitors remember the Atea Ring Gallery when it was located in Essex at the yellow school house, now housing Historic Essex and Renew. And before that it was located in the Van Ornam building on Main Street.

Though Atea Ring relocated her gallery just up the road from Essex, into her serene, pastoral home in Westport, remains an oasis of fantastic and very real artwork.

The buzzing of a hummingbird’s blurred wings startles me as I wander among the irises, storm clouds brooding overhead. Is this Atea Ring’s garden or her gallery? A painting of equally sinister clouds threaten in one of Piper’s photographs, an ethereal moon presiding.

Scroobious Pip and Laughing Buddha

Red Poppy, by Jill Piper (Atea Ring Gallery, Westport, NY)
Red Poppy, by Jill Piper (Atea Ring Gallery, Westport, NY)

Piper’s wistful images and Robert Segall’s coil pots gathered amidst peonies and irises and hummingbirds invokes a long slumbering childhood memory of the Edward Lear‘s The Scroobious Pip, though I’d be hard pressed to articulate exactly why. Perhaps it’s the vastly diverse convergence or the clever seductive rhythm of the verses which work their magic on the psyche despite the mysterious meaning. Most likely its the intricate illustrations of that invoke a simpler, more mysterious time and place.

The Scroobious Pip went out one day
When the grass was green, and the sky was grey.
Then all the beasts in the world came round
When the Scroobious Pip sat down on the ground.

There is music in these gallery rooms, not just out in the gardens and meadows. A piano. An accomplished voice instructor. The almost imperceptible “Ooommm…” of the breeze across the top of a pottery jug.

“We call this one Buddha,” Ring says, pointing at a delicate but voluptuous coil built clay pot with three legs which floats above the surface of the stand, levitating, meditating. Or just being. Waiting for a breeze to awaken it. The laughing Buddha.

Ring is joking, of course, or at least I think she is.

I challenge anyone to spend a few quiet moments among Segall’s pottery vessels and Piper’s photographs without chuckling a bit to themselves. Not because this beautiful artwork is a joke, far from it. It emits a subtle, infectious invitation to smile. To laugh.

Jill Piper’s Art of Interruption

There is levity at the Atea Ring Gallery. And stillness.

“Beauty knows the art of interruption,” Piper says. “It says, ‘Stop talking, stop walking, pull over to the side of the road and… Notice.’ My photographs capture those beautiful moments that I was lucky enough to see.”

More than anything this captures the impression of Piper’s images. Ephemeral glimpses. Borrowed moments. Shared. Invitations to wonder, to contemplate, to question.

“Working with the extraordinary curator, Atea Ring, allowed me to find surprise in my own work. She devoted hours and hours to studying my images and talking with me about why I focused on this or that. She was interested in knowing how I “saw” the world around me. She asked me to dig deeper into my files for images that went beyond the calendar cover shot. She wanted to find a grouping of photographs that we could gaze at and wonder about. Her collection of my work was a gift to me, something to be treasured.” ~ Jill Piper

Piper passes this gift along to us with her exhibition, Shadow and Light, open until June 23 at the Atea Ring Gallery located at 236 Sam Spear Road in Westport, New York. The gallery is open on Friday and Saturday between 10:00 am and 4:30 pm, or by appointment (518.962.8620).


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