Lynette Charters’ art has a feminist message: Women are artists, not just art objects

Lynette Charters with her piece "Fontainebleau School's Muses."
Lynette Charters with her piece "Fontainebleau School's Muses." Courtesy of Lynette Charters

Olympia painter Lynette Charters, whose work plays with the representation and underrepresentation of women in art, has won second place in a prestigious national art competition.

Charters’ “Missing Women” paintings were honored in the biennial Visual Impressions show at Ryan James Fine Arts in Kirkland, where she’ll have a solo show in summer 2019.

The paintings take off from work by great masters — from Renaissance painter Jacopo Negretti to abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning — and replace nude female subjects with expanses of bare wood. Knots in the wood replace nipples and, usually, one eye.

“It’s a pretty simple concept, which I think is its strength,” Charters told The Olympian.

The missing women in the paintings represent another set of missing women: female artists. According to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, 30 percent of artists represented by commercial galleries are women.

“We are not represented as artists, but if you walk into any gallery, there’s no shortage of women’s bodies being looked at,” said Charters, who runs the pop-up Allsorts Gallery in her South Capitol home. “We’re looked at, but we’re not heard.”

Her “Wyeth’s Sauna Muse” — based on Andrew Wyeth’s 1969 “The Sauna,” recently on view at the Seattle Art Museum — hangs in the exhibition, open in Kirkland through the end of the month.

The second-place finish, though, was not for that particular piece. Rather, it recognizes her current body of work. Visual Impressions is the rare art competition that is based not just on what the jury sees but also on an extensive interview process with artists under consideration.

The jury appreciated Charters’ innovative use of material, said gallery owner Ryan James, part of the 12-person jury for the show.

“It’s a unique approach,” he told The Olympian. “Painting on board is very popular right now. There’s been kind of a resurgence. But when she selects the board, she looks for the knotting and she develops the shape of the figure around that knotting. That is the really fresh new take.”

Charters has based most of her pieces on well-known works, which make a connection with viewers, he pointed out, adding, “Then the way she manipulates the piece delivers her own message through it.”

That message is not a new one.

“Women’s achievements are not featured in the history books,” she said. “We’re extremely underrepresented in politics, and we don’t have an equal wage law, and until that happens, anything else is kind of like a Band-Aid.”

She’s seeking to include more diverse work in the series.

“It’s not just a white women’s issue,” she said. “I’m always searching for different cultures and different times, because it’s an issue that expands across continents and centuries.”

Though turning up more diverse images can be difficult, finding the right piece of plywood, usually pine, for each piece is the most time consuming part of the process.

“I usually have five or six paintings in mind that I’d like to do, and I’ll go to the hardware store and try to find the wood,” she said. “Sometimes it happens in one or two visits, and other times it takes a lot longer.”

The artist has known since she began work on the “Women” in early 2017 that having a show that includes the entire series — as she will next year in Kirkland — will deliver the message most powerfully.

“The strength is in the numbers,” she said. “I knew I had to make about 50 of them to get the message across.”

She’s made 25 thus far, “working like a demon,” and sees no end in sight — at least not yet.

“I’m not going to stop at 50,” she said. “I’m going to keep going until they're invalid.”

Lynette Charters

Olympia artist Lynette Charters won second place in the biennial Visual Impressions show at Ryan James Fine Arts in Kirkland. The juried show includes work by 50 up-and-coming artists.

When: Through May 31; gallery hours are 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Ryan James Fine Arts, 11905 124th Ave. NE, Kirkland

More information: 425-814-9500, ryanjamesfinearts.com, www.lcharters.com