Gallerist Claire Oliver’s commitment to grow the careers of artists she represents has been a core value for over 25 years. Located in New York, the Claire Oliver Gallery works with artists to place their pieces in exhibitions and art fairs around the globe.
One of those artists is Seattle’s Barbara Earl Thomas, an award-winning writer and celebrated regional artist who has been an integral player in Seattle’s arts community for more than 30 years. Oliver met Thomas in 2016 during the gallery’s first year participating as an exhibitor at the Seattle Art Fair.
Barbara Earl Thomas at her studio near Columbia City.
“Seattle Art Fair is responsible for our representing her,” said Oliver. “A mutual friend introduced us there, and I instantly felt a connection but had no idea she was an artist. We talked for a while, and ten minutes after walking away, Barbara returned to our booth. She had a bag in her hand that she handed over to me with a catalog of her artwork inside.”
Struck by Thomas’ genuine nature and exuberant energy, Oliver looked through the portfolio and instantly recognized Thomas’ refined talent and the exceptional quality of her work. After returning home to New York, she reached out.
“I immediately called her and told her I wanted to talk further. In just a few days, she was on a plane to New York,” said Oliver. “We have been friends ever since, and all of it started from that conversation two years ago.”
Participating in the Seattle Art Fair provides opportunities beyond selling art for Oliver—it is also a space to forge valuable connections with others in the art industry, including Thomas.
“The art fair is about affirming and strengthening relationships I already have, while also forming new ones,” Oliver explained.
During the fair, Thomas took the same approach, enthusiastically conversing with the crowd and spending hours connecting with gallerists and other artists.
“I had no idea who I was going to meet at the Seattle Art Fair, but I went there with intent,” said Thomas. “I brought my cards and portfolio, and put my game face on as I introduced myself to people. There was nothing to lose.”
In the end, her determination paid off. Shortly after the fair, the Claire Oliver Gallery began to officially represent Thomas and has since exhibited her artwork in key art markets around the country such as New York and Chicago. In 2017, Oliver brought some of Thomas’ pieces to ExpoChicago for the first time and will include her in another exhibition there this September, as well as in Miami this December.
Thomas uses a utility knife to cut small sections out of paper in her piece "Man Down", which will be shown at ExpoChicago this year.
At ExpoChicago, Oliver will be showcasing Thomas’ piece Man Down
, a glowing installation which stands 12 feet high and produces shadows through a series of paper-cut panels, emulating an enormous lantern. The piece is put together for viewers to stand inside, casting shadows among the entirety of the surrounding environment.
Through her relationship with Oliver, this will be the third time Thomas will have her work featured outside of Seattle, helping advance her career beyond the Pacific Northwest.
“Because I am from here, the Seattle Art Fair is a different experience for me,” said Thomas. “I know people here—but when I walk into Chicago, I don’t know anyone. I have to walk up, introduce myself, and make new connections. It challenges me to grow.”
Thomas is not the only artist that the Claire Oliver Gallery is advancing to a national stage. At this year’s Seattle Art Fair, the gallery brings work by Matt Bahen of Toronto, Lauren Fensterstock from Maine, Laetitia Soulier from New York, and Judith Schaechter from Pennsylvania in an exhibition called Suspect Realities.
“Claire has helped us enormously. She helps us get exposure in places where people aren’t familiar with our work,” said Thomas. “She brings me to areas with a completely new audience, and she brings other artists to Seattle so their work is shown to new audiences and collectors.”
Featuring this wide range of artists, Suspect Realities
questions the deception of the real, exploring the meanings at play in the artifice of the modern world. Its works ask the question “can we believe what we see in today’s digitized, Instagram world?”
"The Matryoshka Dolls 2" by Laetitia Soulier will be featured in Claire Oliver Gallery’s booth at the Seattle Art Fair.
Be sure to stop by Claire Oliver’s booth at the fair to explore the pieces displayed in Suspect Realities.
Seattle Art Fair tickets are available here