“You like to make pretty work about serious issues,” said Susan Christian, owner of Salon Refu.
Christian was speaking to her friend, the animator and visual artist Lynette Charters, and Charters had to agree. “My work always has an underlying social commentary,” said Charters. With a life full of animated earth, wind and fire; cobblers; crisscross houses; muses; peacocks; thieves and wooden sculptures under her belt, Charters is a fluent artist in several creative languages. She hails from Embsay, a village in the sheep-farming district in England known as The Yorkshire Dales. “It was idyllic, but the country was still recovering after the war. We never had a lot going on. It’s beautiful but I was bored as heck,” Charters said. The young artist left to pursue her art-foundation year in Bradford, her bachelor’s degree in Cardiff and her master’s in Chelsea, London. During her college years she focused on social issues and language of materials, conveying messages in artwork through the artwork’s media.
But what of the language of rocks and stones? Charters became familiar with these media during her time as an assistant to famous sculptor Andy Goldsworthy in the 1980s. Charters met Goldsworthy after he gave a lecture at Bradford College, where she did her art-foundation course. From 1985 to 1986, she worked with a small team of students to help create two massive sculptures, “Entrance” in Dorset’s Hooke Wood and “Sidewinder” in Grizedale Forest. From Goldsworthy, Charters learned attention to surroundings, perception and the value of persistence and patience. These skills in particular would come in handy during the next era of Charters’ life: animation.
Charters landed her first animation job at Hollywood Road Studios in South London. Soon afterward, she was hired as a two-dimensional (that is, drawn) special-effects animator at Richard Williams Studios, working on The Thief and the Cobbler for Warner Bros. just after that studio finished work on Who Framed Rodger Rabbit? Her career in animation included work on a variety of movies in Los Angeles, such as Prince of Egypt, The Road to El Dorado, Sinbad and Space Jam to name a few. “Special effects is pretty much anything that doesn’t act,” she said, “elements like water, fire, smoke, debris. Clouds are regulars as well as shadows, tones on characters and props. Occasionally an exciting scene involves animating a main part of the background. It’s a discipline which involves most departments. Making sure you don’t steal the attention from the character animation is important along with fitting in with the flow of the story, the background, lighting with camera and technical departments and there’s design, composition and perspective to consider. It takes a good few years to learn it properly.”
These skills stay with her today, allowing her to transition easily from different moods and styles in her own work. One can see this in Charters’ latest project, The Muses. She uses the fine-art language of materials, including wood as a natural substance, plaster as a building and masking material, candy wrappers as “trinkets with no value,” and secondhand frames for their mundanity. “It helps to know what messages you’re giving out when you’re using certain images, materials and styles,” said Charters. This new series in progress demonstrates her message via absence: the absence of women. Charters replicates famous artworks throughout history, but there’s a twist. In these replications, the women are absent, replaced instead by the shape of the woman with the wooden board showing through. “I’m busy not painting a bunch of women,” said Charters.
The artist attempts to show an alternative to the male gaze, something with which society struggles given the mostly patriarchal concepts that formed our world. “As women we’re generally not educated to see things from our own perspective,” said Charters. “We’re taught to see ourselves from someone else’s point of view.” An example of this is how immediately viewers focus on the muses’ sexuality. Charters is trying to demonstrate the idea that our brains are wired this way. The project plays on the concept of “the inappropriateness of projecting sexuality on something as passive as a piece of wood.” Charters doesn’t choose these paintings to mock the original artists, whom she admires. The masterpieces are chosen for their renowned status, or for how they function as “blinding examples” of the male gaze — thus showing how “women’s achievements are regularly unrecorded in history books, but our bodies are everywhere in the walls of galleries. There is a huge imbalance.”
Megan Bailey, a young artist who’s worked with Charters, said of the project: “Lynette has been painting like crazy, and has about 15 of the wood-paneled paintings of women removed. … They’re very impressive and make me think of women’s place throughout history.” After meeting at a performance of Stardust at Harlequin Productions, Bailey and Charters worked together on an exhibition of Bailey’s work in 2017. “Lynette has helped push me,” said Bailey. “I didn’t think that I could paint 17-plus paintings in a month, but having a deadline helped push me. Lynette is an incredibly talented artist working on an exciting body of work, and has been incredibly supportive of me as an artist.”
Charters exhibited Bailey’s work at a showing in Charters’ pop-up gallery, Allsorts. Charters’ living room provides a large space for the public to view art. “We do about four shows a year,” she says. “It’s more of a community-building venture, where artists and art lovers can mingle and appreciate art. It’s a very approachable way to be introduced to new art. It’s not too highbrow, because it’s in my living room.” She hosts food and drink at artists’ talks, encouraging people to socialize. “We never make back the money we spend. The public is welcome to buy art, but that’s not our objective,” says Charters, adding, “I love how supportive everyone is here. We all understand that we’re all richer together.” She wants to help foster an Olympia community that thrives on culture: “I find that Olympia’s culture survives on the sweat and hard work of people who generally aren’t compensated. It can get very fragile financially. I believe a little more government support for galleries and theaters would go a long way. It would pay back fiscally, too. People like to live in and visit a community with a healthy and thriving cultural identity.”
Charters’ next steps for herself involve finishing The Muses. With 15 made and others to come, her vision is to mount the pieces like a regular museum exhibit but with the women missing. She also hopes to collaborate with an art historian on a book featuring The Muses. “I like to make palatable art that you would want to hang in your living room,” said Charters. “I like to charm people into understanding, but we all have a voice and we all find our way. Just because I choose to say it one way doesn’t mean it’s the only way.”
Charters’ work appears on her website, LCharters.com. This visual artist turned animator turned visual artist once more will exhibit Christian’s work at Allsorts Gallery the weekend of September 15, with an artist’s reception from 4 to 7 p.m. on Sunday, September 17.
What: Susan Christian art exhibition
Where: Allsorts Gallery,
2306 Capitol Way S, Olympia
When: Friday – Sunday, Sept. 15-17
How much: free