Artist Leslie Barlow’s Next Subject: Other Artists

The Minneapolis painter known for portraiture plans to use her State Arts Board Grant to center women artists of color
"my cuz, considering the sky" by Leslie Barlow
“my cuz, considering the sky” by Leslie Barlow


“It’s like an energy exchange,” artist Leslie Barlow says, revealing insight into one of her most sacred forms of painting: creating portraits.

The 33-year-old award-winning creator will soon use her 2023 Minnesota State Arts Board Creative Support Grant to focus in part on collective well-being by doing portraits of fellow artists. She will begin putting brush to canvas for her grant project by the fall.

Her project will be more than skin deep. “I’m going to be interviewing and connecting with other artists, centering on women artists of color, asking them things like, ‘What does your art practice mean to you and what are the things that bring you joy?’”

Barlow’s take on those same questions: “It is that relationship and the conversations that come from my work that I really enjoy.”

Within her light-filled northeast Minneapolis studio, Barlow describes the importance of the process. “With the mutual gaze that happens, when you are seeing someone and are painting them, and they are seeing you in the process of painting, especially as a woman of color, it’s very healing.” Healing, from the pandemic and 2020 uprisings, is part of what motivates the collection she will create using the grant. And the cathartic effect is meant to go beyond her. “It’s kind of a ripple effect.”

Barlow’s vibes are humble and generous. Beyond identifying as an artist, she takes seriously her role as a mentor. “I’ve experienced a lot of barriers, so if there’s any way that I can make that journey for another young artist a little bit easier, it’s important for me to do.” Barlow, who was born, raised, and trained in Minneapolis—she earned her MFA at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design—sees it as a responsibility. “If you really look back at it, how you became established, there were people who were advocating for you, or giving you advice, or helping you along the way.”

Her most cherished piece of guidance from a trusted mentor: “The most important thing I have been taught is really around time and energy and rest … and to think about my practice in seasons.” And this upcoming season will be all about celebrating portraiture as a two-way street.

WATCH: Brandi Powell interviews artist Leslie Barlow for KSTP’s Minnesota Live.