Pay at the Pump: There’s more than money exchanging hands at America’s service stations.
Pay at the Pump: There’s more than money exchanging hands at America’s service stations. Credit: Photograph by Darrow Montgomery

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Lisa Marie Thalhammer was a Catholic prep school student working as a waitress at her family’s truck stop in Troy, Ill., when she first heard the term “lot lizard,” trucker slang for prostitutes who turn tricks in the parking lots. Many years later, the 25-year-old D.C. artist would be mistaken for one.

Last summer, after her parents decided to sell the business her grandfather bought in 1972, Thalhammer went back with a camera to document the place where she spent nights and weekends as a teenager. As she walked around the lot—and, later, the lots of other truck stops in Maryland and Virginia—truckers would stop her and ask what she was doing. She told them stories about serving fried chicken and mashed potatoes at her family’s truck stop and about her art.

“They would say ‘Yeah, I knew you were too pretty to be working the lot,’ ” recalls Thalhammer, who moved to D.C. in 2004 and recently received a Young Artist Program grant from the D.C. Commission of the Arts and Humanities. “I was like ‘Oh my God. I’m getting out of here now.’ ”

The experience inspired Thalhammer to create “Welcome to Lizard County,” which opened Saturday, June 2, at G Fine Art. In most of the 15 collage, oil, and ink pieces included in the exhibition, lot lizards lounge seductively on the hoods and in the cabs of line-drawn semis; mismatched high heels dangle over truck grilles or from side windows. The women, whom Thalhammer assembled from snipped-up lad and fashion magazines, are abstract and comely hood ornaments, faces posed in the sultry expressions of models and prostitutes. The images, Thalhammer says, are about voyeurism and how women deal with it.

“The point of the drawings for me was to take an American subculture that is generally looked down on and give it, in a sense, some kind of empowerment, make it about the women, not about the men,” she says. As such, truckers themselves are absent from Thalhammer’s Lizard County; the work focuses on the women, the trucks, and the flat landscape and summer sunsets of the American Midwest. On the borders of many of the pieces, Thalhammer appropriated Gospel illuminations. “I chose to border the drawings to attempt to give a similar sense of importance or reverence to these figures,” she says.

Though she never met any women she was certain were lot lizards, Thalhammer says they were like mythical creatures constantly on the lips of truckers and other workers. And, even if her family’s truck stop has since changed hands, the impressions it left her with are deep-seated; Thalhammer plans to continue working on the theme, which she says could resurface at an exhibit at Transformer scheduled for September.

“I miss it,” Thalhammer says of the place where she learned about lot lizards. “But I am glad I have it in my memory.”

“Welcome to Lizard County,” along with works by José Ruiz and Vesna Pavlovic, is on view from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, to Saturday, July 7, at G Fine Art, 1515 14th St. NW, Suite 200. Free. (202) 462-1601.