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Northeastern grad’s mural splashes distorted faces–and smiles–on Boston street

Northeastern alumna Christy Charlot paints a utility box on Huntington Ave for the City of Boston. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

Northeastern graduate Christy Charlot likes dysmorphic faces.

A lot.

Distorted faces—one face, splitting into two, then splitting into three.

Hundreds of these faces are emerging on a large utility box on Huntington Avenue in Boston in a mural being painted by Charlot. And just about every one of them is smiling.

“I started drawing faces ever since I learned how to draw a circle,” Charlot says. “I love drawing faces because something every human has in common is a face. A face is a centerpiece of every living species and I think that’s very unique and extraordinary, so I highlight that a lot throughout my drawings. Same with eyeballs, teeth and limbs.” 

Charlot, 26, a 2020 Northeastern graduate who majored in psychology, has been commissioned by the city of Boston to paint a mural on the box on the sidewalk near Cargill Hall at Northeastern’s School of Law. The “sentimental” project began in early August and is expected to be completed by Oct. 1.

Charlot’s utility box mural is called “Public Housin’.” It is a cartoon interpretation of the public housing project she grew up in, Franklin Hill in Dorchester, less than 4 miles from the utility box.

“Growing up in public housing was very impactful and had a strong effect on me because it was a different experience compared to me being out in the real world and hanging out in upscale environments,” Charlot says. “Nonetheless, I’ve enjoyed the time I spent living in my community because everyone who lives near me has a unique personality and they’re down to earth in their own way.” 

Charlot gave the nearly 5-foot tall utility box two coats of white paint, then penciled in the mural on all sides of the box. After painting black outlines over the penciled mural, Charlot began bringing the mural to life by splashing bold, colorful paint strokes of red, pink, brick brown, green and gray.

A mural painting of hundreds of dysmorphic faces on a white background.
Northeastern alumna Christy Charlot’s utility box mural is called “Public Housin’.” It is a cartoon interpretation of the public housing project she grew up in, Franklin Hill in Dorchester, less than 4 miles from the utility box. 
Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

In addition to many faces, the mural features popping eyes, basketballs, sneakers, bricks and many images within images. 

“It’s a cartoon version of what I see,” Charlot says.

“I drew the community of public housing, neighbors interacting, the positive side. People talking and playing, playing basketball, lots of basketball,” she says.

Amber Torres, public art manager for the city of Boston, said she is a big fan of Charlot’s work.

“There’s a uniqueness to her style, the way she fills up spaces,” Torres says.

“Her piece about public housing is amazing. It looks like chaos, but if you look closer, you can see it. It makes you ponder,” Torres says. “Her work is a great fit for paintbox.”

Charlot is one of 91 artists currently involved in the “paintbox” program, Torres says. There were 171 applicants for the program this year, and a selection committee chose the finalists. Torres, a member of the selection panel, said the program aims to give new public artists a leg up.

“This project is intended for emerging artists, so we tried to prioritize new artists,” Torres says. “It serves different purposes for artists, depending on where they are in their journey.”

Charlot is an emerging artist. She recently painted a mural inside the Legal Greens dispensary in Brockton, Massachusetts. She is developing a website to sell her artwork and expects it to be online in September. She also posts some work on her Instagram account.

Charlot, who also works as a sales and services representative at a gym in Boston, would like to make art her full-time career. She has created artwork for an organization called STEAMid, and she is in the process of releasing a new project called “Welcome to the Skreets” that will feature her characters interacting in different street setting environments. Charlot says she would like to create more indoor murals and artwork of her characters on canvas. 

Her attraction to art started early. She remembers the white and blue dress she wore during her baptism and “the contrasting colors held my attention.” Today, she likes to use bright and bold colors in her murals. “I play with the visual senses,” she says.

When she was in second grade and started cursive penmanship, she loved playing around with different fonts. She has created a few of her own since, which she said would be considered calligraffiti.

In third grade, Charlot started drawing characters. And her obsession only gained momentum.

“I didn’t think I was good at it, I thought everyone did it,” says Charlot, who is of Haitian descent.

The first time she realized people liked her work was in high school, at Cathedral High School in Boston, where she was born and raised.

Charlot did a black and white pencil drawing on 14-inch by 18-inch paper. Half of the drawing was a public housing scene, with a man talking to a young woman, and Hennesey bottles on the ground. On the opposite side, was a man in a formal suit with a nicely dressed woman on a date in an elegant setting and he was holding the door for her. Charlot’s English teacher saw the drawing, loved it and wanted to keep it.

Art was an escape for her, Charlot says, because she was bullied from elementary school into high school. 

“It just soothed me, blocked out people calling me names,” Charlot says. “I would draw to take my mind off things.” 

Charlot says she sees characters in her dreams. “And when that happens, I run to my pad. When I wake up in the morning I work on my art. I always have my art pad with me,” she says.

The main character in her “Public Housin’” paintbox mural is “Threso,” she says, who has, of course, three faces in one.

Focused on corridors and main streets in Boston, paintbox pays artists $200 before starting the project then $300 upon completion. The city is trying to paint about 100 utility boxes, which are owned by the city of Boston Transportation Department or the Public Works Department, every year. 

“There’s no count to how many boxes there are in the city right now, thousands I would assume,” Torres said. 

When she is painting the utility box, Charlot says, people often stop and ask about the project. 

“The majority of people tell me it looks cool, beautiful, nice; and they look forward to seeing it completed,” Charlot says. “Another large sum of people ask if they can take a picture. Then I had a few people ask me how I’ve gotten this opportunity or am I randomly painting on the box.”

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