St. Louis Park Artist Wins First Prize at State Fair on 11th Try

Marty in the print lab at MCAD. Inset: Winning state fair piece.

Last summer, St. Louis Park resident Marty Harris won first prize in print at the Minnesota State Fair. That’s just the headline; the happy ending was preceded by 10 years of applications to the fine arts department of the fair. It’s been a long road for Harris’ work to be shown at the “Great Minnesotan Get-Together,” so the winning ribbon was just as surprising for Harris.

“It was very surprising, and a relief,” says Harris, who has a master’s degree in painting. “I certainly didn’t expect to get a ribbon or be in the show.”

The winning screen print, titled Frontyard, depicts the titular front yard and showcases Harris’ unique ability to work with print, art, illustration and digital media. “The sky was done by hand, the screen print on top of that and the outlines were done on the computer,” Harris says.

Harris has worked in commercial illustration for over 30 years, work that’s bled into his tenure as an artist and more specifically, screen printing.

“What I love about screen-printing is that I can use a bunch of the skills I’ve developed over 30 years on the computer,” says Harris, who admits he lives on Adobe Illustrator but is terrible at screen-printing itself because of its specificity in dimension, i.e., the restriction that everything needs to fit in the space laid out at the project’s beginning.

The artist, who often attends continuing education classes at the Minnesota College of Art and Design, describes his work as painterly and illustrative. “I like things to happen when I’m doing fine art,” says Harris, who admits to making mistakes on purpose. “I set myself up for calamity. It generally brings up the most interesting picture.”

Of his work being shown at the fair, Harris is realistic. “Thousands of people go through that building, and each has different taste,” says Harris. “The idea of judging and winning a blue ribbon is luck.” Still, the desire to be featured at the fair never faded.

“Every year I ranted about not getting in the fair,” says Harris. “I’m not the only person that’s been rejected 10 years in.”

With almost a dozen entries into the state fair alone, Harris may be the expert on stubbornness in the art world. Harris advises aspiring artists to focus on what they love and let dreams have a chance. “Do what feels right but you still have to make a living and do it in a field that interests you,” says Harris. “I learned Illustrator on the job. I’m just learning it as it comes through the door.”

Art fans can check out Harris’ work on his website or at his next show, going up on August 10th at the St. Germain Gallery in St. Cloud. He wants to thank continuing education at MCAD, and especially the Open Edition class, for the opportunities it provides community artists.