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Acclaimed local artist chosen for official Dayton portrait

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Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton speaks to a large crowd.
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton speaks to a large crowd at the Landmark Center in St. Paul in July. While Dayton has picked Minnesota artist Paul Oxborough to paint his portrait, he told MPR News that the portrait process was a "trivial" duty.
Lacey Young | MPR News

A Minnesota-trained fine artist who has received international acclaim for works depicting bartenders, sunbathers and even a famous rapper will do the official portrait of Gov. Mark Dayton.

Paul Oxborough, 53, of Excelsior has been selected to paint the Dayton portrait that will hang inside the Capitol, a tradition for the state's former governors. Dayton's office confirmed this week that the departing Democratic governor would participate despite expressing prior reluctance.

In March, Dayton told MPR News that he "would hate to look at myself in larger, living color." He described the portrait process as a "trivial" duty as he prepared for his exit.

"If somebody in the future decides they want to do a portrait of me, I will send them a Polaroid snapshot and they can do so," Dayton said then, while also acknowledging that his portrait would be the latest in a series that dates to the first man to hold the office, Henry Sibley.

The DFL governor chose the artist in consultation with his two sons, who are familiar with Oxborough's work and made the introduction.

Self Portrait by Paul Oxborough
A self-portrait by Paul Oxborough. Oxborough, 53, of Excelsior has been selected to paint the portrait of Gov. Mark Dayton that will hang inside the State Capitol.
Courtesy of Paul Oxborough

Andrew Dayton, the governor's youngest son, said his father preferred that the artist have a strong Minnesota tie. 

"Dad hasn't been thrilled about sitting for a portrait, but has acknowledged that it's a tradition worth carrying on," Andrew Dayton said by email. "He indicated that, if he were to do it, he would want the portrait to be painted by a Minnesota artist."

Oxborough, who was born and raised in Minnesota, called it a "huge honor" to be granted the Dayton assignment.

"For him to not go out of state, get a big, fancy New York artist fits well with him. And it fits well with me, too, his whole stature in this community," Oxborough said by phone Thursday. 

Dayton's family has deep ties to the arts community in Minnesota and beyond. His late father, Bruce Dayton, left the Minneapolis Institute of Art a vast personal collection of sculptures, ancient Chinese pottery and paintings from renowned artists such as Rembrandt, Renoir, Matisse and Picasso. 

Oxborough studied at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and also the Minneapolis-based Atelier LeSueur fine arts program. His works have been featured in prominent galleries, including the Smithsonian and its equivalent in Great Britain. He has won numerous awards. 

While Oxborough is known as much for his pieces showing common people in routine settings — restaurants, swimming pools and living rooms — he also drew international attention for his painting of hometown hip-hop artist Stefan Alexander, who goes by the stage name P.O.S.

Portrait of Alexander Stefan by Paul Oxborough.
A portrait of hip-hop artist Stefon Alexander, aka P.O.S by artist Paul Oxborough.
Courtesy of Paul Oxborough

In an interview, Oxborough said he is more accustomed to doing works for personal use or being commissioned to paint portraits of business executives for the corporate boardroom. This is the first time he'll do one of a politician.

"Certainly I would say there are more rules that go along with this one than my standard portrait and a lot more people will be looking at it," Oxborough said. "So yeah, I would guess there is a bit more pressure."

Recent governors have opted to include symbols in their portraits to reflect their hobbies, policy achievements and personality. Oxborough expects less symbolism and more of a literal representation in the Dayton portrait, although he'll defer to the governor's wishes.

Oxborough said his goal is to capture Dayton's modest nature.

"He's not flashy. I wouldn't make something flashy of him because of that, I assume," he said.

The governor and the artist will meet for some work sessions in the coming months. The portrait is expected to be completed by June.

As with prior governors, the expense — in this case $25,000 — will be covered by the state.

The portrait for Dayton's predecessor, Republican Tim Pawlenty, also cost $25,000. The painting of former Gov. Jesse Ventura, a third party governor, was $20,000.

Under the current portrait alignment in the refurbished state Capitol, Dayton's picture will hang in the same publicly accessible corridor as those of Pawlenty and Ventura — one floor down from the office all three occupied.

Correction (Dec. 28, 2018): An earlier version of this story misidentified Stefon Alexander in a photo caption.