The art fair in full bloom

The month of August contains certain traditions in Minneapolis: humidity so thick that breathing is difficult, the beginning of summer’s end and the Uptown Art Fair.

This year, as fair-goers flock toward Hennepin Avenue and snake through the fair’s labyrinth of canopied canvas tents, they will be a part of more than the fair’s 45th year. Because the fair has traditionally taken place during the first weekend of August, this year’s fair coincides with the first anniversary of the I-35W bridge collapse on Aug. 1. From the fair’s annual theme to its commemorative print and the local artist who created it, special care has been taken to balance the vivacity of the art fair with remembrance of the tragedy.

“Artitude in the City” is the fair’s theme this year, said Maude Lovelle, executive director of the Uptown Association and producer of the Uptown Art Fair. This particular theme, noted Lovelle, has a lot of purpose.  

“Things happen in the city, and you can take the word ‘city’ loosely. The city could be Uptown, the city could be Minneapolis, the city could be the Twin Cities, or the city could be any urban place.”

Each year, the Uptown Association selects an artist from around the country to create a commemorative poster for the fair. With a theme concentrated in the city, it is fitting that Marni Tobin, a St. Paul native, was selected as the 2008 commemorative print artist. A graduate of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Tobin works with both oil paint and watercolor to create city scenes that pulse with the energy of individuals.

“I am fascinated by the unique and interesting people found in urban places,” Tobin said, “from the women in their dresses and stilettos to the existential philosopher lingering over black coffee in the corner.”

Because of this, Tobin wanted to observe the vibrant social scene of Uptown. Though the print is inspired by real cafés in both Uptown and Downtown, Tobin said she aims to capture the mood of a place rather its location with exact detail. Complete with the iconic Uptown Theatre marquee, “Artitude in the City” is filled with hot colors and florescent outlines to capture the electrically charged atmosphere of Uptown’s nightlife.

But the fair’s city theme stems further than the commemorative print. With the simultaneous occurrence of the first anniversary of the I-35W bridge collapse and the art fair, Tobin was also commissioned to create a piece that honors both the tragedy and the city’s hopeful triumph in rebuilding and re-growth.

“Maude e-mailed me a list of about 25 words and little phrases that come to mind when you think of the bridge collapse,” Tobin said. Most of the words focused on the positive growth that has happened since the collapse. From those words, Tobin created her concept.

The piece, “13 Flowers,” is a 48-by-36-inch oil painting with cool tones and 13 blooms that gently represent the individual victims of the collapse.

Tobin intentionally chose the flowers featured in the painting.

“There is so much cultural diversity in the people who lost their lives,” she said. “I chose the native flowers from Mexico and Minnesota to represent those people. I also chose a flower and a bud, its seed, to represent mother and child.”

While honoring those victims and the sadness of the event, Tobin also wished to depict the kindness of the witnesses of the collapse, and the ability for the residents of Minneapolis to progress in hope.

“Something that struck me,” Tobin said, “is how helpful everyone was (after the collapse). So in the painting there is somebody helping somebody out of the water, and they are standing on a piece of rubble. There are pieces in the water that can fit together like a puzzle, and that symbolizes that we are coming together and can put this together again.”

Tobin marks the piece as an honor and emotional challenge in her career. Lovelle believes it will be well received.

“Every bit of it is so symbolic it almost brings tears to your eyes,” Lovelle said.

The Uptown Association is working with City Hall to incorporate the piece into the commemoration of the collapse on Aug. 1.  The original painting will be on display throughout the weekend of the fair, and prints will be available for sale. Thereafter, the piece will travel throughout major city landmarks and eventually be auctioned off. Proceeds from both the prints and the auction of the original piece will be donated to the I-35W Bridge Foundation.

The commemorative print will be unveiled in conjunction with the 2008 Uptown Art Fair party, “Expose Yourself,” at 5:30 p.m., July 17 in Calhoun Square. “13 Flowers,” will be unveiled at the art fair’s press conference on July 30. Both events are open to the public.