Meet the Excelsior artist who is painting Gov. Dayton’s portrait

EXCELSIOR — An artist who lives in Excelsior will paint Gov. Mark Dayton’s official portrait.

The portrait will hang in the state capitol with all the other former governors’ portraits, and for Paul Oxborough, it is exciting and a little nerve wracking to be picked to paint Dayton’s likeness.

“It’s equal parts excitement and nerves, I suppose,” Oxborough told the Lakeshore Weekly News. “There’s going to be so many eyes on this portrait. A lot of people commenting on it … There will be a lot of attention on it. [I’m] a little nervous about that.”

The award-winning artist is no stranger to large crowds as his paintings have hung in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery and the British and Scottish national portrait galleries. But “those were for pieces that were my own paintings, not commissions. So this will be the biggest commission as far as eyes on it,” he said.

Oxborough has been commissioned to paint various portraits, including families and CEOs, but this will be his first political figure. He got the $25,000 commission after a little push from his wife who wanted him to paint an elected official.

It helped that Oxborough “peripherally” knows Dayton’s sons, “so I kind of threw my hat in the ring and just went from there.” Oxborough said he thinks Dayton interviewed several people and went with him, noting it seemed important to the former governor to have an artist from Minnesota paint the portrait.

“I’m a DFL to the bone and proud of that, and proud of our Minnesota culture and society. Gov. Dayton and I had a really good fit about that right away,” Oxborough said. “I don’t think that would have been something he was necessarily looking for — a Democrat to paint his portrait — but it just so happened to be that. That’s fun for me. I have a little Minnesota pride about that. I get to be a Minnesota footnote in the history books: painted by Paul Oxborough. So that’s kind of fun.”

This commission will be different from other commissions Oxborough has done because Dayton will get to choose most things about the portrait, plus there are other stakeholders involved that all get to have their say, Oxborough said. He doesn’t think Dayton will want to include much symbolism in his portrait like previous governors have, noting Dayton is a “pretty no nonsense kind of guy.”

They’re “still working” on what will be included in the portrait, Oxborough said, but noted it will be “modern, yet somewhat traditional in the sense that there won’t be any bizarre sort of, you know, odd things going on in the background. I think he wants that part pretty straight forward. Pretty literal, I guess, is the best way to describe it.”

Oxborough still plans to incorporate his style into the portrait he does of Dayton. He said he’s been described as an “American figure painter” that’s “sort of impressionism, but it’s also realism” with a touch of some photo realism. He enjoys painting subjects in dimly lit interiors and “anything really with a strong sense of light. That’s my goal always, to feel the sense of light in a painting,” he said, noting that could be a beach scene or a dimly lit bar scene.

Oxborough first made the connection that being an artist would be a “great thing to do” back in elementary school when they did an art project and “everybody thought mine was the best,” he said. But it wasn’t until he was a ninth-grader at St. Louis Park High School that he really believed he could be an artist, saying his “very influential” art teacher “let me believe this could be a way to make a living.”

He went on to study at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and an offshoot of the Atelier Lesueur out of Excelsior. The Atelier Lesueur apprenticeship program provided him a foundation in portrait painting, he said.

He went on to make most of his living by being an exhibition artist, getting his inspiration from the traveling he’s done with his wife and four children. His first show was at a gallery in Edina after he spent a year living in France. But he hasn’t had a show locally for about 22 years. Instead, he shows out of New York through Cavalier Galleries.

Oxborough has lived in Excelsior for the past 10 years, and in the past two years has been focusing on commissions instead of his own exhibitions. Oxborough said his most exciting commission was when he and his wife traveled to Mallorca, the largest Balearic islands, which are part of Spain, and stayed with the people he was painting. He also got to travel to Bogota, Colombia, to paint a family of 14.

Outside of painting, Oxborough enjoys traveling, food, spending time with his family and architecture. He’s been redoing a warehouse in downtown Minneapolis for the past three years and will eventually move there because he and his wife are empty nesters living on five acres.

But it won’t be easy to say goodbye to the Lake Minnetonka area.

“One of the best things about living here is I can pretty much walk to everything I need,” Oxborough said. “It will be hard to leave this area. I really like it. We’ve talked about moving down there and renting out this house just in case we change our minds.”

For more information on Oxborough, visit his website at pauloxborough.com and see more of his work on Instagram, his handle is @pauloxborough.