Artist Profile: Leslie Barlow

Leslie Barlow’s cover to The Growler #44, The Art Issue

Art doesn’t instruct you what to think—it just tells you to think.

In today’s ever-shifting political, economic, social, and cultural climate, we’re sometimes left speechless. But Leslie Barlow shares her art as a language—thought-provoking topics rendered through colorful, realistic, life-sized portraits that you can stand face-to-face with and look right in the eye.

“I like that art can speak to more complex ideas and concepts and feelings that sometimes words cannot fully express,” she says. “It’s a form of communication and expression that reaches right into the mind and soul of both the creator and viewer. […] That’s what my paintings are for.”

It’s obvious that for Leslie, who holds a master’s degree in drawing and painting from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, art fills multiple corners of her life. In addition to her full-time work as a professional artist, she employs herself in other creative ventures—she’s the assistant instructor in the VALT program at Juxtaposition Arts, administrative assistant for Northern, and this fall, she’ll be teaching a drawing class at the University of Minnesota.

“Being an artist may not be the most financially lucrative thing in the world,” Leslie says, “but I’m happy and get to meet and work with amazing and inspiring people from our community, and that’s what really matters in the end.” And it’s the community around her that influences her works, from shows to grants to NFL-sized commissions. Out of the more than 1,100 submissions, she was one of the 34 local artists to paint larger-than-life oil paintings of iconic Vikings players for U.S. Bank Stadium.

Leslie Barlow // Photo by Kevin Kramer, The Growler

The hallmark of Leslie’s work is an exploration of the reality behind social issues regarding multiculturalism, otherness, and identity within the community. As a biracial woman herself, she had explored these themes through self-portraits or paintings of her family. But she wanted to dig deeper—enter her most recent exhibition: “Loving.”

“Stephen, Jeffrey and twins” // Painting by Leslie Barlow

To mark the 50-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia, the landmark decision that legalized interracial marriage, Leslie embarked on her most ambitious series yet. This past February and March, she infused 10 realistic, yet playfully colorful artworks of interracial Twin Cities couples atop patches of fabric, endeavoring to weave a deeper meaning—that like a quilt, these individuals have come together to become one beautiful and whole family.

Related post – Trailblazers 2016: Leslie Barlow

“The body of work for the ‘Loving’ exhibition was actually a long time coming, something I had been ideating for years,” says Leslie. And it’s her proudest moment as an artist so far. “Connecting with each of the families for the project was such a moving experience for me that I will never forget. The culmination of all the work finally coming together in the final exhibition at the Public Functionary and the positive response the show has received was more than I could have ever imagined.”

And whatever subject matter or aspect of identity Leslie examines, whether it’s race, gender, spirituality, or sexuality, she’s visually narrating the stories that exist in our daily lives, and using art to spur courageous conversations. “Experiencing and viewing art can push the boundaries of our own narrow viewpoints,” Leslie notes. “Plus, looking historically, art has become a documentation of a place and time, and what people were thinking about at that time. All of this is vital to humanity.”