Leslie Barlow | February 2017


Leslie Barlow explores current social issues by using herself, family members and members of her community as the subjects in her paintings. This approach weaves layers of personal experiences and relationships into the work–experiences that reflect both the subtle and not-so-subtle integration of categorization, discrimination and subjugation into our daily lives and identities.

This new body of work features 10 large-scale paintings that layer a variety of media — oil paint, charcoal, acrylic, gesso, pastel, photo transfer, and textiles. The paintings make visible a community that represents the changing dynamics of Minnesota. The invisibility of multiracial families sends an unhealthy and inaccurate message to people and families with these lived experiences. Challenging perceived family normalcy and the lack of representation of diverse family dynamics, Barlow introduces us to a series of paintings depicting interracial couples and mixed race families, communicating something both unique and mundane in their presence and relationships.

Study of the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court Case has been an important part of Barlow’s understanding the culture of discrimination surrounding interracial relationships and mixed race people. Anti-miscegenation laws were a part of the US since before the nation was established, and remained so until ruled unconstitutional fifty years ago, in the 1967 court case. The case was brought by Mildred and Richard Loving, a black woman and white man, who had been sentenced to a year in prison in Virginia for marrying each other. The strong link between fear and discrimination binds together the Loving era to the present-day. As the outcome of the presidential election weighs heavily and reinforces the persistence of racial and social divides in our country, on this 50th anniversary of the Loving case we are reminded that, while some progress has been made, we have so much further to go.

The works in this exhibit are moments of the everyday: some intimate, some reminiscent of traditional family portraits, some fleeting and barely captured. Barlow approaches each work differently allowing the subjects to take center stage, drawing upon the commonalities between families while also honoring the differences. Barlow weaves together the complexities of their lived experiences, and allows the exposure of raw wood and canvas to serve as perceptual uncertainties that cast doubt on our “known” understanding of the world–pushing investigation into the politics of representation, and what it means to be bonded as family. The narratives in the work allow space for questions and conversation about race, race relations, identity, and family. Ultimately, the works come together to communicate a new story, a story that challenges superficially-simple narratives, celebrates that which makes us unique, and underscores that love knows no barriers.



Leslie Barlow was born and raised in South Minneapolis, where she currently lives and works. She holds an MFA in Drawing and Painting from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and received a BFA in Studio Art, emphasis in Painting, from the University of Wisconsin-Stout. She has exhibited throughout the country, received a number of awards for her paintings, and has been featured in podcasts, online and print articles and television, including a recent episode of Minnesota Original on PBS’ tpt. Her paintings can be seen in permanent collections at Anoka-Ramsey Community College, The Minneapolis Foundation, and the Minnesota Vikings Art Collection at U.S. Bank Stadium. In 2015 she was invited to be one of the 12 featured artists in the Minnesota State Fair’s Studio:HERE residency program and in 2016 she was the artist-in-residence at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. Also in 2016, City Pages named Barlow one of the “Artists of the Year.”

Her current body of work consists primarily of oil painting, employing figure and narrative elements to talk about issues related to multiculturalism, “otherness”, and identity. The work is created in response to her own conflicting feelings of belonging, which are compounded by the limited representation of diverse narratives by and of people of color in art history and popular culture. Working within the history of figurative painting offers her fertile ground to push the boundaries of our known visual language and introduce current contemporary concerns into that history. Barlow layers colors, subtleties and symbolism. These techniques construct paintings that allude to the multilayers and complexities of race, experiences, and identity. As a person of mixed race, this work is vital to her understanding of herself as well as the world around her.


I felt the urgent need to represent ‘alternative’ narratives of identity, race, and family, while simultaneously unpacking the complex layers and contradictions within my own multiracial identity. This lead me down a path of opening old wounds from my childhood, and deepening my knowledge of race relations and visual representation of people of color in the United States.
— Leslie Barlow