Minnesota State Fair Unveils Official Commemorative Art by Leslie Barlow

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

The piece was unveiled at the State Fairgrounds last Thursday. The 3-foot-by-4-foot original artwork is a “cosmic and youthful” look at the State Fair. Barlow wanted the painting to look like a “snapshot”, but in reality the artwork is a collage. Each element is actually a separate image, but Barlow seamlessly ties the piece together, perfectly capturing that feeling of nostalgia that 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 me,” said Barlow. “The fair often feels otherworldly… with all the sounds, laughter, bright lights and activity. I wanted my work to represent that.

Barlow often depicts people of color in her artwork and in this piece, one can see the neon lights from the midway reflected in her subjects’ faces.

“[I] love our skin tones to be 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 piece.

The painting will be on display in the Fine Arts Center through the duration of the fair.

Barlow prominently works as an oil painter, and her work explores issues of race, multiculturalism, identity, and isolation. Her work was featured in an exhibition 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 Connection Unstable, created with her partner, photographer Ryan Stopera.

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

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