Stephanie Buer on The City That Made Her

1xRUN is excited to welcome landscape painter Stephanie Buer for a stunning print edition as part of our International Women’s Day collection! CN Rail is an ode to one of Detroit’s best-known landmarks: The Packard Plant, once an obelisk of Detroit’s vibrant auto industry, is now viewed as a symbol of the city’s economic decline.

Buer is drawn to derelict landscapes, uninhabited by humans but clearly marked by them. As part of International Women’s Day, the Portland-based artist spoke to us about Detroit’s significance to her growth as an artist, and her gripe with the industry. Read our exclusive interview below.

1xRUN: Tell us a little bit about this piece, anything immediate you would like us to highlight about this image?
Stephanie Buer:
This piece is a drawing I made from images gathered while exploring the Packard Plant years ago. It was taken before the Packard Plant was purchased and renovated, back when I used to live in Detroit and wander the plant regularly. That place is very special to me and my early development as an artist.

1x: Is this piece a part of a larger collection?
This piece was a part of an ongoing series about the Packard Plant and that part of Detroit.

1x:Can you tell us more about that series?
: I moved to Detroit to attend art school about 18 years ago. So long ago! Very shortly after I started classes, I befriended some artists at the Heidelberg Project and they took me to see the Packard Plant, and I fell in love. Ever since that day I’ve been exploring that old factory and other areas of the city, taking thousands of photos and making paintings and drawings of the places I visited.

1x: How did you execute this image?
I used charcoal for the original piece. I really enjoy charcoal; it’s much quicker than painting, and the process, for me, is more meditative. There’s no color mixing or layering or waiting for things to dry. You just pick up the pencil and go. It usually takes me about two weeks to finish a drawing like this.

1x: What were your earliest interactions with art growing up?
Drawing was something we did a lot as kids, from a very young age. We didn’t even think about it. It comes so naturally to children, to express oneself and communicate in that way. We weren’t concerned with how things looked, or if they were good or not, we just drew everything all the time. We’d make up elaborate stories and characters that would come alive as soon as we recorded them on paper.

1x: Who or what was a prominent figure that played a role in your formation as an artist?
I didn’t have a lot of encouragement in high school. Our art program was terrible. After high school though, I went to the community college in Grand Rapids and studied under this amazing professor Nick Antonokis. He changed the game for me. I was told by other teachers that I could never become an artist – that the idea was just crazy. I was too slow and detail-orientated that traditional painting was over. He was the opposite. He taught and encouraged me, helped me build my portfolio and pick a good transfer school. He really believed in me. It was life changing.

1x: What are some of the biggest challenges to being a working artist?
Comparing yourself to others is an ongoing challenge. There will always be artists who are better than you, who get into all the galleries and shows that you wish you could, or who find it easier to get grants and fellowships. It’s a dangerous road to go down and it can really hinder your growth and happiness.

Trying to use social media as a promotional tool, but also to not get bogged down in comparing yourself to others is difficult. There really are so many challenges to working as an artist, but learning to manage yourself, and to be happy with the work that you do, can lift that fog and help you handle all the other things so much easier.

1x: In what ways is the art industry becoming more or less accepting and equitable for women?
The industry is talking about it, taking notice, and making attempts at being more inclusive, and that helps. At least they’re finally saying, hey, this isn’t right. Hopefully, the momentum keeps rolling and real change starts to show up. In all areas of the art industry, too, not just the outward parts that make institutions look like they care.

1x: What are the changes that you would like to see?
You know, it’s always bothered me that even today, a lot of men still produce work about women, the “idealized” woman. You’d think once you leave mainstream culture and enter the art world, things might be different, people might have moved on and become more open minded, but no, it’s all the same. There are depictions of perfectly gorgeous, commercialized, idealized women everywhere. We know women’s bodies are beautiful – all the female-identifying bodies are rad as hell – but can we please celebrate everything else about them too? Everything they create, their minds, ideas, the way they see the world, the way they are strong and powerful and emotional, and how every other goddamn thing that they do is fantastic? Also, while we’re at it, how about men just stop making work about women. Celebrate them, listen to them, promote them, and lift them up in other ways. Please.

1x: What does a balanced art industry look like to you?
I think a balanced art industry would look way more diverse, not just by leveling the playing field for women, but all minorities: POC, LGBTQ, trans folks. They need to be represented and given a place. A big place, too. So just asking for 50/50 men and women is not enough in my opinion. Dismantle it all and start over.

1x: What artists inspired you in the past? Who are some woman-identifying artists that inspire you today?
There were some really great professors at The College for Creative Studies that I looked up to – Gilda Snowden and Susan Campbell are two of my favorites. I really loved reading about and studying Louise Bourgeois too. She was so tough and so rad. There really weren’t that many, though. It was mostly dudes.

Nowadays though, I have more women artists in my life that I look up to. Mary Iverson is one. She’s definitely someone I admire and ask a lot of advice from. Stella Im Hultberg, Cinta Vidal, Liz Brizzi and Lisa Ericson are all female-identifying, working artists who I look up to. They make beautiful work and make things happen. It’s inspiring. It’s tough, though. For about every ten fellow artists who are men, I can name like one female artist.

1x: What advice would you give to an aspiring artist?
Go out and network. Go to gallery openings, lectures, classes, meet real people and have real conversations. Those connections will be crucial in starting your career, and those relationships will make you happy.

Follow Stephanie on Instagram at @stephanie_Buer.