Interview with Stephanie Buer for “Uncommon Silence”

Stephanie Buer

Thinkspace is proud to present Stephanie Buer’s newest body of work ‘Uncommon Silence’ in our main room this Saturday, January 7th. The Portland-based artist realistic paintings and charcoal drawings capture the vacant and desolate sprawl of abandoned urban spaces. In anticipation of her upcoming exhibition with us, we have an exclusive interview with Stephanie Buer to discuss her inspiration, exploring urban spaces, a day in the studio, and so much more.

Join us at the opening of ‘Uncommon Silence’ Saturday, January 7th from 6 to 9 pm. 

SH: What’s the inspiration behind the exhibition?
SB: Los Angeles is the inspiration. We wanted to do something a little different for this show, so I came to LA for a week about a year ago and just wandered the city, looking for inspiration. It was a really great experience.

SH: Can you describe your creative process? What does a day in the studio look like?
SB: Once I’ve gathered all the images, gone through them and picked the ones I would like to work with, its pretty straight forward. The creative part comes in when wandering and finding beautiful places to paint and then arranging the compositions. After that, it’s just putting in the hours to get it all done. I work anywhere from 6-12 hrs a day. I bike to the studio, paint or draw for awhile, head to the gym to work out or grab a meal with friends then usually head back to the studio. I can’t work more than about 6 hrs in one stretch, my focus starts to fall apart and the work gets sloppy, so that’s usually when I take a break.

BUER

SH: When not working on your art, what is your favorite thing to do?
SB: I love climbing. If I’m not working at the studio, I’m at the gym climbing, at Smith Rock climbing or off in the mountains somewhere. Its so much fun, I can’t get enough. I also spend a lot of time hiking, practicing yoga and biking. I like to stay really active.

SH: What is your favorite abandoned space? Do you have an interesting story to share from exploring different spaces?
SB: My favorite abandoned building to explore is the Packard Plant in Detroit, I think it always will be. I loved that space so much, I spent a lot of time there in college, after college, I’ve been wandering that property for the past 14 years or so. I have a lot of great memories in that space. It’s being renovated now, I haven’t been in it in over a year. It will probably never be the same as it was, so I’m very happy to have gotten to know it when I did. I remember exploring that building around Christmas once and way deep in the building we found some abandoned rooms that were rented out at one time as storage units. They were filled with so many old relics of peoples lives, it was pretty sad but also exciting. We found a bunch of boxes of old Christmas decorations and we decorated the hallways with everything we found. It was very festive and cold and snowy and amazing!!

SH: This question feels ridiculous to ask, but the world is one in which women have to be more on guard. Going into abandoned spaces for your reference photos, how do your ensure you’re safe or push pass any apprehension you had about exploring these spaces. What advice would you give other female artists who are afraid?
SB: I am a very independent woman and I feel very confident in my skills in the wilderness and on mountains but it’s true that in our world, you still have to be careful and be aware of unsafe situations. I never go alone, that’s one piece of advice I could give. Even if I know the space really well. These abandoned places attract people from all margins of our society including a lot of people with mental illnesses. There just isn’t the funding in this country to take care of people with mental issues and they end up on the streets and then in these spaces where they can hide and live and they’re just very unpredictable. Most are incredibly friendly and have great stories to share but you never know.

Also, be aware of the consequences of getting caught, and make sure you’re cool with that before going. Most of the time I can talk my way out of things but if and when I do get caught I like to know the consequence ahead of time so I’m not surprised and then angry. We have a saying in mountaineering, the number one rule in mountain climbing is, don’t fall, the second rule is, don’t fall and the third is . . .don’t fall! I’d say the same goes for this, but it’s don’t get caught! So, go out with others, carry a knife, wear running shoes, bring nothing valuable, be aware and bring snacks!

SH: In a 2012 interview you shared your love of Detroit and the Packard Plant, have you found a similar kinship with Portland or an inspiring location?
SB: I have not sadly. There are a few places I like to wander and as Portland becomes more popular and people start moving here, I’ve noticed an increase in the amount of graffiti which is fun. I like living here though, the creative community is amazing, lots of really friendly, talented people. I also like the easy access to climbing, hiking, and mountaineering. My family is all still in Michigan though, and always will be so its still home and I go there a lot. I think I’ll do more traveling to explore urban spaces in the future too. I had a great time wandering LA and look forward to getting to know other cities in that way.

SH: You’ve shared you’re not a history buff but you have a clear fascination with the past and its influence on the present if you were to have a dinner party what 3 historical figures would you invite and what would be on the menu?
SB: There would definitely be pizza, really good pizza and a couple bottles of wine. I’ve been eating a lot of pizza lately. I would love to sit and chat with John Steinbeck. One of my favorite books of all times is Sailing Alone Around the World, by Joshua Slocum. I’d love to chat with him about his adventures. I know I should probably list some painters or something like that, but painters are weird. We spend too much time alone painting and we get weird. It’s okay though. I climbed in the Bugaboos this summer and was reading these stories about Conrad Kain, a famous mountaineer from the early 1900’s, he climbed with a lot of badass looking pals, including a few ladies. I would love to sit down and hear their stories. I love hearing about people who adventured before it was made too convenient. Everything was difficult and they were so tough.

SH: What excites you about other artists work? What makes you a fan and can you share a few people we should look up?
SB: I really love the way people use paint. Some artists say so much with so little, and the brush strokes and light. It’s too much! There’s some amazing painters out there. I’ve really been enjoying Phil Hales paintings. I can never seem to get enough of John Singer Sargent and Andrew Wyeth either.

SH: How long does one piece take to complete? Do you work on multiple pieces at a time?
SB: I definitely work more than one piece at a time. I usually only do one drawing at a time but I’ll also have two to three paintings in rotation. I use a very limited palette and a lot of the building materials in the images are shared from one image to another so I can get a lot of mileage out of a well-mixed palette. I like switching back and forth between charcoals and paintings as well, they inform each other in really great ways. I’m never entirely certain how long they take though. I always forget to time it. I would guess anywhere from 40-100 hrs.

SH: Kicking off the year with an exhibition seems like a solid way to start the year, what are a few of your goals for 2017?
SB: It really feels great! Last year was a really tough year for me, lots of personal challenges so this feels good. I’ve been so busy the last few months, finishing up work for the show that I haven’t given much thought to my goals. I have lots of climbing goals, I’d love to go back to school and get my masters, travel somewhere new and make a body of work from the trip, there will be a lot more dancing this year, being with my family and friends . . . . after the opening I’m gonna hide in the desert for a bit, I’ll think more on it then.