EK Interview: Stephanie Buer

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The imagery of Stephanie Buer‘s paintings and drawings recalls her time spent in Detroit, Michigan. While dilapidated and human-free edifices dominate her works, Buer speaks to Detroit’s artistic initiatives and to the changing cityscape. Check out Stephanie’s other Empty Kingdom interview and post !

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What is your working/living space like?
I have a studio space that is separate from my living space. I like being able to keep the two separate, it helps to keep me sane. I work in a shared studio space with a bunch of really amazing, creative people. We have quite a wonderful community; we work together, play together, keep each other motivated. It’s really amazing.

Thinking of Detroit, can you describe your most memorable vantage point?
Of course! My favorite vantage point in Detroit is definitely the roof of the Packard Plant. It’s very expansive and quiet, the city is below you and in the distance and being up there gives you the feeling of being so far away, and yet right in the midst of it all. It’s covered in all kinds of beautiful paintings, tags, and tons of trees—some are very tall too. There are lots of little ponds of water, some with tall trees growing next to them. It’s bizarre. There are even areas with lots of tall grass growing; there are literally forests and fields up top. I love it!

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What is your perspective on Detroit’s artistic initiatives—the Heidelberg Project, for example? How does your art intersect with it?
I’ve been visiting the Heidelberg Project for years; I love that place. The artists that live there were the ones who took me on my first urban exploring trip to the Packard Plant. I owe them so much. Their work is different though—I don’t live in Detroit anymore, they do.  They are there every day, living and breathing that city. I lived there for 10 years, and I knew that Detroit very well, but it’s a much different place than when I lived there. Their work and other artists who live there can speak much better on the city then myself.

What do you prefer to convey through charcoal as opposed to paint?
I like exploring abstract compositions, the movement of the eye through shapes and expansive spaces. I like the drama that is created with the absence of color.

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I once read at an exhibition that if someone has a chair/throne in a room (as opposed to standing), it signifies that they maintain an unconditional place of power in that space. In many of your drawings, such as Room with a View, I notice empty seats—does this lend itself to your art at all?
Perhaps if there was a person in that seat it may, but I never paint people. I prefer empty spaces.  I know that someone put that seat there though, and who they were and what their intention was intrigues me. When someone set that old seat there and sat down in it, with the whole city at their feet (the view from that room is beautiful), they must have felt pretty incredible.  I don’t personally paint or draw those objects with that intention in mind.  I use them as a focal point sometimes, so I guess in that way they dominate the composition.

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I’ve gathered that you are quite interested in history… what is the shape of history to you?
I wouldn’t say I’m a history buff or anything. I enjoy old things and the stories that go along with them. I wish that our society would treasure these old places more, like they do in Europe, instead of letting them go into such a state of ruin that the only option is to tear them down and build new, cheap, ugly structures. I recently learned that in Europe, most graffiti artists will not paint on a building that is more than two hundred years old. However, in the US, they know that society takes such crummy care of old structures and most come down eventually, to be rebuilt, that this unspoken law doesn’t exist for the most part.

How do you reconcile your works with the popularized concept of ‘ruin porn’?
I’m not certain I am too familiar with, ‘ruin porn.’ I am aware that a lot of people enjoy exploring old, abandoned places and I think that’s great. I may be misunderstanding this concept, but I don’t see any negativity or any reason for reconciliation. My work is not always of abandoned spaces either; I paint all different areas of cities.

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What/who do you look towards for inspiration?
When I’m wandering around, I look for places most people wouldn’t necessarily go. I like old buildings, industrial areas, abandoned buildings, alley ways, etc. I love old materials, patinas, graffiti, weeds, junk, those sorts of things.

What do your next six months look like?
I’m currently in Los Angeles, doing some image gathering for some new work. Once I have a nice bunch of images, my next six months will be bringing those pieces to life. And the next six months after that, actually. I’m also taking a pretty intense rock climbing course over the next few months. I’ll be learning to lead Trad and a lot of high angle rock rescue skills. I’m super stoked about that. Playing around in the Alpine on rock helps keep me balanced; I need studio time and mountain time to keep me sane : )

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