Barry Roal Carlsen was born in 1957 in Omaha, Nebraska. He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 1980. He then moved to Madison for graduate school at the University of Wisconsin. Carlsen graduated in 1983 with a Master of Fine Arts degree, and divides his time between his studio and the UW Communications office.
Carlsen is a frequent visiting artist at universities and art centers where he lectures or teaches lithography. He has received numerous grants and awards, and his work has been exhibited nationally and in Europe. It can be found in private, public, corporate, university and museum collections, including the Chazen Art Museum, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Meriter Hospital, Rayovac, Sentry Insurance, Progressive Corporation, and the State of Wisconsin.