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Piper rewrites history with abstract collages

Jeffrey S. Piper, who lives in Boardman and teaches at Lakeview High School, holds up one of the paintings that will be in his exhibition “Rewriting History,” which opens Saturday at Trumbull Art Gallery. Staff photo / Andy Gray

WARREN — Jeffrey S. Piper knows abstract art isn’t loved by everybody, so he often includes more familiar, more representational imagery on the canvas.

“A lot of people pass right by abstract artworks — ‘Eh, I could do that’ — and don’t give it much thought,” he said. “A few years ago, I started putting these little individual things in the art that you can hold onto. If they have something they can understand and hold onto, they start to make associations between the objects that exist in there and start to look at the abstract aspects of it and try to make sense of it as well.”

He explores those ideas in “Rewriting History,” an exhibition that opens Saturday at Trumbull Art Gallery in Warren.

Piper, 43, now lives in Boardman, but he grew up in Cortland and teaches art at Lakeview High School. The exhibit focuses on work created in the last five years.

“I try to move my work as much as possible,” he said. “If it’s been around for a while, I’ll paint right over top of it. I’m not one to keep old work around.”

He describes his recent work as collages as much as paintings. Piper will paint onto plastic and then peel off those plastic pieces, storing them in a dresser. He then will assemble the different pieces on a canvas and then cover the canvas in a clear resin, which emphasizes their three-dimensional quality.

That three-dimensional look, along with the spheres that usually are incorporated into his work, have been signature characteristics of his paintings since he earned his master’s degree in art from Youngstown State University in 2010 (Piper started his undergraduate studies at The Ohio State University and earned his bachelor’s degree from Kent State University in art with a minor in education).

“In the process of my work (while at YSU), I started incorporating shadowing, making things more three-dimensional, making things pop off the canvas,” he said.

His most recent pieces take that collage approach even further by taking images found in art history books and incorporating them with the more abstract, painted elements.

“That’s where the name ‘Rewriting History’ comes from because I started taking some of these popular images and putting them into my abstract art,” Piper said.

Piper said he enjoyed art growing up and took as many art classes as he could, but he never was singled out as a great talent. It wasn’t until college, after detours into computer animation and graphic design, that he began to pursue art and art education seriously.

Painting is his passion — “I like teaching, but I love creating,” he said — but each aspect of his career feeds the other.

“I think it’s important, especially for an art teacher, to demonstrate the field and show students their creativity, their technique,” Piper said. “It’s inspiring to see their teacher is actually out there doing it.

“I get a lot of great ideas from my students. Not only am I teaching them, but I’m gathering everything they come up with. Teaching has been very beneficial in my work. It’s a two-way street.”

Also opening Saturday is the “TAG Portrait Group Member Exhibit.” Members of the group meets every Tuesday at the gallery to hone their skills in portraiture by sketching / drawing / painting a live model.

Participating artists include Allison Breese, Scott Chopko, Marie Dippolito, Beth Ensign, Elaine Green, Millie Hawkins, Salli Kowalski, Becky Nan, Terry Polonsky, Yasmine Rashid and Pete Vouvounas.

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