Minnesota State Fair Unveils Official Leslie Barlow Memorial Art


What colors come to mind when you think of the Minnesota State Fair? The bright, multicolored neon lights that adorn the cabins and rides? When the sun goes down, the fair transforms into a world of technicolor, which Minneapolis-based artist Leslie Barlow perfectly captures in the colors of her latest portrait, the official commemorative art for this year’s State Fair.

The piece was unveiled at the State Fairgrounds last Thursday. The original 3ft by 4ft artwork is a “cosmic and youthful” look at the State Fair. Barlow intended the painting to look like a “snapshot”, but in reality the work is a collage. Each element is actually a separate image, but Barlow ties it all together seamlessly, perfectly capturing that sense of nostalgia Minnesotans seek to relive by visiting the fair time and time again.

“I wanted to communicate the energy, excitement and joy that the fair brings to me,” Barlow said. “The fair often seems otherworldly…with all the sounds, laughter, bright lights and activity. I wanted my work to represent that.

Barlow often depicts people of color in his works and in this piece, the neon lights in the middle can be seen reflecting off the faces of his subjects.

“[I] I love that our skin tones are really vibrant and beautiful,” she said.

Barlow is the first black woman and woman of color to be commissioned to create the fair’s commemorative coin.

The painting will be exhibited at the Palais des Beaux-Arts for the duration of the fair.

Barlow works prominently as an oil painter and his work explores issues of race, multiculturalism, identity and isolation. Her work was featured in an exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art last summer. “Leslie Barlow: Within, Between, and Beyond” explored how race impacts identity and leaves an impression on the body through oil portraits and video interviews.

Barlow is also known for her series Portraits during a pandemic and the quarantine-themed COVID zine called Unstable connectioncreated with her partner, photographer Ryan Stopera.

Barlow was awarded the 2021 Jerome Hill Artist Fellowship, and in 2019 she received both the McKnight Visual Artist Fellowship and the 20/20 Springboard Fellowship. She currently teaches at the University of Minnesota.


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