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Aug. 24 – Labor Day, Sept. 4, 2023

197 Days 1 Hours 43 Mins

Q & A with Leslie Barlow

What can you tell us about this painting?

I wanted the piece to feel cosmic and out of this world, as well as to communicate the energy, excitement and joy that the fair brings me. The fair often feels otherworldly, especially near the midway, with all the sounds, laughter, bright lights and activity. I wanted my work to represent that.

How is your particular style represented in this work?

I typically paint images of people who are often my friends, family members or people I’m connected to in the community. My paintings are usually very large and colorful, and if you were to see a piece of mine, I think you would recognize the mark-making and color palette and the attention to emotion and connection that the figures often have. All of that is present in the State Fair painting.

Tell us about the vibrant colors in the painting.

This color palette is kind of new for me. It relies heavily on pink and green, because I was going for a youthful, sci-fi energy. As far as skin tone goes, I’ve been playing with reflected color in skin, or arbitrary color, for about 10 years. I often paint people of color and love our skin tones to be really vibrant and beautiful. In this piece in particular, what you also see are the neon lights from the midway reflected in the faces, communicating how bright and lively the fair is at night.

What is something that might surprise people when they look at the painting?

The image is actually a collage, but I didn’t want it to look that way. I wanted it to look like an exact moment – like a snapshot that happened at the fair. In reality, each element is from a separate image. The people are one photo; each of the rides, including my favorite, the Air Maxx, are separate; and the aliens are embedded into the souvenir kiosk with the stuffed animals.

What was your process like creating this painting?

I was commissioned to create the 2022 commemorative artwork after last year’s fair was over, so I spent a lot of time imagining and reflecting on what I wanted the image to be and looking at a lot of State Fair photos online for inspiration. Once I had a plan, I photographed the people together in my studio. They are friends of mine, as well as fellow artists from the emerging studio program I lead called PF Studios. I used blue, green and pink lights to mimic the lighting you would see at the fair. As place holders, I found a bucket that was the approximate size of a Sweet Martha’s cookie bucket, bought some stuffed animals, and the corn was actually a paper cut out because corn was out of season when I took the photo.

What do you hope people take away from seeing this painting?

I think it’s an image we haven’t seen yet in commemorative art at the State Fair, so I hope people are really excited about what’s being represented, and I hope it makes them feel good.

What was the biggest challenge in creating this work?

Smiles are not easy to paint. To make a smile feel warm and inviting was the most challenging part of the piece, especially because everyone in the painting has a different kind of smile. You have someone who’s mid-laugh, versus a softer smile, or someone totally cheesin’. Capturing those variations was the toughest part, in addition to also making it look like all five of them were really standing there at the fair, because I had to use collage and my imagination to fill in the blanks. But I’m happy with how it all turned out.

Tell us about your other art experiences at the fair, starting with the Fine Arts Exhibition.

I first took part in the fine arts competition in 2013 and have participated nearly every year since then. I have been blessed with an award acknowledgment each year I’ve participated, including the Minnesota Museum of American Art Purchase Award in 2018. I’ve also taken part in a couple other arts activities – I did an artist talk on the fairgrounds with PBS TV in 2016 and I was live painting in the Joyful World Mural Park last year.

What was it like being part of the Joyful World Mural Park in 2021?

I didn’t start making murals until after the murder of George Floyd in 2020, when I started making paintings on literal boards, as boards went up on storefronts across Minneapolis. I worked collaboratively with other artists to not only speak to a moment, but to amplify and process everything going on, and heal ourselves in a way. Over that summer I learned more about what this kind of painting meant to me, and I continue to make large mural work with the collective Creatives After Curfew. Prior to 2020, I could never have pictured myself painting live at the Minnesota State Fair, mainly because I was an oil painter, and that scenario just didn’t make sense to me. But as a muralist working in acrylic, and having more experience paining in public, I loved that visitors could interact with me and see the work progress in real time. It was an honor to be one of 12 local artists creating images of joy at the fair.