Georgia Geen, Executive Editor
Richmond muralist Emily Herr got the idea for her latest personal project when she and her family drove by a strip club next to the infamous, kitschy and controversial South Carolina tourist attraction, South of the Border.
“We see all these signs, and we’re into the kitsch, but we’re not into the nightmare situation that it seems to be,” Herr said. “And if you pass South of the Border on the highway, there’s a big field after it and this lonely, shitty cinder block building at the end that has a ‘Girls! Girls! Girls!’ sign on it.”
Herr started to think about what “Girls! Girls! Girls!” literally means — all types of girls and women with differing interests, personalities and characteristics — versus the connotation of the sign.
“The sign is selling women as a product,” Herr said. “They’re excited about a very specific kind of girl who usually isn’t what we would use the word ‘girl’ to represent in everyday use.”
She wanted to visualize the juxtaposition she saw in the sign by framing its imagery next to drawings of girls and women in different scenes, such as jumping rope, speaking through megaphones and operating machinery. The show — which opened Friday at The Mezzanine gallery at Quirk Hotel — is titled “Who Is She?” because it sparks the viewer to ask that very question when they see images of women in art and media.
Herr asked people on social media to send her photos of women they loved along with a bit of backstory. What struck her the most was consistently receiving messages saying, “it would mean so much for this person to be included in your project.”
“I was working with that assumption on kind of a broader scale of, ‘It’s important for people to be represented in the art world,’” Herr said. “But it is very significant for one individual to be represented in one piece of artwork and I think that just reinforces the idea that we should take our work seriously.”
The resulting 102 pieces in the collection — which Herr began working on two years ago — serve as a reference library for her “Girls! Girls! Girls!” mural series. While Herr routinely takes commissions as a muralist, the series and its drawings are an opportunity for her to create personal work, which she isn’t typically paid for.
Working from photo submissions and a set theme gave structure to the project, which is necessary for Herr. She’s very organized, especially considering her main workspace is a van she converted into a mobile studio. It was a more practical decision than splitting her resources between her home, a rented studio, her car and the mural site.
“I’ve always sort of felt a lack of personal work in the medium that I prefer,” Herr said. “You know, I could go out and paint walls by myself for free and have it be my wall — I just need more structure than that.”
Herr said artists are responsible for how they represent their subjects, and many creators follow a “default” model of drawing women.
“There are so many people that just … a drawing of a female face from a bust of a woman with interesting, pretty hair,” Herr said, “they’re usually kind of young and kind of happy or sultry or looking off in the distance.”
Through, “Who Is She?” Herr hopes viewers will begin to think about the identity of women represented in art.
“It’s more about inclusivity and expanding the idea of what you think about when you think of women or when you see an image of a woman, what you assume about her,” Herr said.