Make/Believe and Make a Joyful Noise: Judith Schaechter and Barbara Earl Thomas at Claire Oliver Gallery

Judith Schaechter, De-Luxe, 2022, Stained Glass In Lightbox, 28 x 40 inches | 71.12 x 101.6 cm

Make/Believe Works by Judith Schaechter
October 21 – December 17, 2022

A Joyful Noise Works by Barbara Earl Thomas
November 11, 2022 – January 7, 2023

Claire Oliver Gallery
2288 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.
New York, New York 

By STEPHEN WOZNIAK, December 2022

Two new solo exhibitions on view at Claire Oliver Gallery, Make/Believe and Make a Joyful Noise, rightly focus on our necessary creative drive to challenge the ongoing noxious effects of many troubling, pertinent current events unfolding in front of us. The work in each show utilizes central figurative characters and strong narrative threads to help catch viewer attention but does so by different, intriguing formal means and media.

Judith Schaechter’s Make/Believe – her eighth show at the gallery – is an interesting collection of recent pieces created by the stained glass artist. Her work addresses a sweeping range of topical subjects, from the ongoing global pandemic to the Black Lives Matter movement, but gives us a discrete slice of personal experience in each artwork.  

The rather striking and nearly epic Dance of Death, which alludes to Hans Holbein’s fourteenth-century woodblock print series, takes us into the now of our incessant undoing. The beautifully rendered glasswork features the image of a finely attired, screaming, queenly matron descending through the air down the center of a spiral staircase. It’s clear here that the leadership has been usurped, but was she tossed from the balcony or did power corrupt absolutely to death? Little allusive cues – a set of keys, eyeglasses, change purse and money – that follow her path tell us perhaps this figurative and literal overthrow was inevitable and the result of living, looking and leading high on the hog. It made me think that for every breakdown, there’s a breakthrough. Destruction is followed by the creation of the new that’s often very necessary, sometimes righteous, and hopefully effective. The work’s formal elements are impressive. The piece’s precise, gorgeous, color-saturated stain and enamel handiwork seem almost airbrushed or Photoshopped, but Dance of Death also takes on the sharp graphic quality of Holbein’s original black and white prints. It’s a nice contrast of styles that reminds us that the weighty themes presented in the work date back many centuries and are ultimately eternal.

Judith Schaechter, Passengers, 2022, Stained Glass In Lightbox, 31 x 44 inches, 78.74 x 111.76 cm

A relatively more abstract work that caught my attention was Schaechter’s Passengers, from 2021, a light box-faced, stained glass piece that features twenty-one surreal, ovular portraits of those who struggle, writhe and – in some cases – somehow reach an epiphany. One of the images, which looks a bit like a saintly Mother Teresa type, shows a headwrap-wearing woman holding a flower, earnestly looking above to the heavens. Tiny bubbles that surround her indicate she has drowned, however, her dreams lost alongside many other passengers to a tragic flight crash. The artist worked with face cards to organize the imagery and utilizes a deft layering technique that even painter David Salle would be envious of, which conjoins and reunites the souls of the Malaysia Flight 370 fatalities.

In the second gallery space is Seattle-based artist Barbara Earl Thomas’ collection of large cut paper works entitled Make a Joyful Noise. While she, too, draws from right-now headlines, literary sources and heady history, we get the clear message that each character presented – directly affected by important events – transforms their emotional experience through music and song.

Barbara Earl Thomas, Trumpet Offering, 2022, Paper cut with hand printed color, 40 x 26 inches | 101.6 x 66.04 cm

Thomas’ Trumpet Offering, which refers to the character of Gabriel Maxon in August Wilson’s award-winning stage play Fences, shows us a somber African-American trumpet player, brass in hand, as he parts a pair of curtains to blow his horn. Like the Biblical archangel of the same name, Gabriel is set to announce judgment day in heaven and open its pearly gates. His gift is his playing and here we sense his sincerity as he looks directly at the viewer. The work – both constructed and hand-printed – has the feel of European late nineteenth and early twentieth-century expressionist woodblock prints, but also connects to the paintings of art giants like Leon Golub, Jacob Lawrence and even Henri Matisse. As such, I feel their personal struggle, if not their emotional response and resulting yearnings and actions. For a piece that is primarily covered in black paper, the vibrant gradients of green and blue that poke through and mark the many outlines of the central character come alive, giving us a sense of the potential bristling energy therein.

Barbara Earl Thomas, A Joyful Noise, 2022, Paper cut with hand printed color, 50 x 40 inches, 127 x 101.6 cm

In her piece A Joyful Noise, we see a cello player intensely running a bow across his instrument, focused on the sheet music in front of him, surrounded by beautiful flowers. Behind him, we learn, is a group of diverse Bosnians who walk in the opposite direction of his gaze. The contrast in style of the darkened, engaged, carved-out figure against the more minimal, brightly colored group gives us a greater sense of the self – the personal, individual experience that we must forge ahead with. In the face of war, oppression and tragedy, we learn from this and other works in the show, creativity can triumph or at least act as a source of vital resistance and personal expression.

The works of Make/Believe and Make a Joyful Noise seem like relatives of the same extended family that have crossed a storied history and hit the hard turns in this life we lead. Both Barbara Earl Thomas and Judith Schaechter realize our greater social path and experience in their works through people that we can identify with. In these arresting shows, each artist ignites those characters’ proactive, creative responses with buzzing color, gripping composition and revitalized traditional materials that light up the space and, hopefully, the eyes that behold it.

Both Make/Believe and Make a Joyful Noise are now on view at Claire Oliver Gallery in New York City. WM


Stephen Wozniak

Stephen Wozniak is a visual artist, writer, and actor based in Los Angeles. His work has been exhibited in the Bradbury Art Museum, Cameron Art Museum, Leo Castelli Gallery, and Lincoln Center. He has performed principal roles on Star Trek: EnterpriseNCIS: Los Angeles, and the double Emmy Award-nominated Time Machine: Beyond the Da Vinci Code. He co-hosted the performing arts series Center Stage on KXLU radio in Los Angeles and guest hosts Art World: The Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art podcast in New York City. He earned a B.F.A. from Maryland Institute College of Art and attended Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. To learn more, go to: and Follow Stephen on Instagram at @stephenwozniakart and @thestephenwozniak.

view all articles from this author