- The first "Girls! Girls! Girls!" mural in Richmond, Va.
What would you think if you saw the phrase "Girls! Girls! Girls!" emblazoned on the side of a building in neon-bright colors? Most likely: strip club. But muralist Emily Herr has a different response in mind.
On July 25, the Richmond, Va.-based artist will bring her mobile studio to Burlington for a traveling series called, yes, "Girls! Girls! Girls!" that aims to refocus the way female-identifying individuals are portrayed in media. She and artist companion Sarah Apple, also of Richmond, will paint a mural featuring local women in the alley behind downtown thrift shop Battery Street Jeans.
At the store, which recently moved from Pine Street to College Street, the artists plan to host a party on Thursday, July 27, "to introduce ourselves and invite people to be involved," Herr said. She and Apple will then paint through August 1 or so.
Herr explained that the project "started as me doodling strip-club signs — I think they're bizarre and sort of darkly comical," she said. "They're essentially ads to sell women as products, but they're so simple that, out of context, they're downright celebratory." The images were hard to shake, she added. "They started to symbolize a lot of the problems I see with how women are portrayed in art and advertisements."
One of those problems, in Herr's mind, is "the extreme focus on a narrow range of body type and lifestyle — flawless, slender/fit/sexy, light skin." Not to mention the default moods that women are portrayed in: happy and calm.
Her preoccupation with strip-club signage could have gone many ways, but, Herr said, "I decided to take my fixation and turn it into something positive and purposeful." So she asked women in the Richmond community to send her pictures of other women — or "womxn," inclusive of trans and femme individuals — and a description of why each was important or special to them.
Herr and Apple then translated the images into the first "Girls! Girls! Girls!" mural. Its colorful designs mingle on the wall of a Richmond building, entwined with the bold title words in white. There are images of women dancing, drawing, eating, holding a baby, pointing a finger, and more.
The poses are natural, as Herr intended. On her website, she states, "I decided to put a drop in the bucket of women painting women just as they are — vastly varied, magnificent, normal, utterly human."
After getting positive feedback from their community, Apple and Herr decided to take the project on the road. They left Richmond on July 15 and are stopping in Washington, D.C., and New York City on the way to Burlington, where the connection to BSJ was made through a fellow artist and friend.
The Virginia artists don't have a set agenda or designated walls to paint on during those stops; the only planned mural is the one in Burlington. But that doesn't mean they won't be working.
As Herr's press liaison, Ali Greenberg, explained, "The focus of the tour is manifold: One, to paint murals of women, scattered like apple seeds, in as many places as they can. Two, to make art as they go, no matter what — on the truck, in their sketchbooks, etc. And three, to explore and seek out connections with women and organizations who this project resonates with."
BSJ owner Stu Sporko said the decision to host Herr and Apple was an easy one. "We support local art," he explained.
The garage door and adjacent wall space that the women will paint is behind BSJ's College Street storefront. The area is currently covered with graffiti. "Once it's all cleaned up, it'll really brighten it up," Sporko said. "A lot of people take that route as a shortcut [between streets]."
When Herr isn't chipping away at visual indicators of the patriarchy, she runs a mural-painting company called Herr Suite with Apple's help. Apple is also an illustrator and sign painter with her own business, Lucky Signs RVA.
"This project and trip is my first foray into a serious noncommissioned work," Herr said. "My full-time job is mural painting via freelance commission, which has allowed me to support myself and save some money for personal ventures."