It’s been a big year for Mark Ratzlaff. The painter of back-alley Bloomington was just admitted as a member to the Brown County Art Guild. He was named Outstanding New Exhibitor at the Hoosier Salon, the grand-daddy of the traditional painting world in Indiana. And his painting, Bloomington Diary #2, won the Director’s Purchase Award at the 38th annual Indiana Heritage Arts exhibition. It’s an organization that showcases the state’s traditional and representational painting, and chooses one painting each year to add to its permanent collection. Most of those paintings depict rural scenes, and look as though they could have been painted a hundred years ago. This year, Indiana Heritage Arts acquired Mark Ratzlaff’s scene of cars in a parking lot. With telephone wires. And graffiti. And trashcans.
How is it that someone who has painted a still life of a pizza box is being hailed by several of the more staid fine arts organizations in Indiana? I wondered whether this turn of events means that the way traditional painting is defined is changing or that Ratzlaff is becoming a more traditional painter. Having spoken with the artist four years ago on the eve of his last show at Blueline Gallery, I caught up with him again to investigate what may have nudged him into recognition from the respectable art world. As it turns out, Mark Ratzlaff is still living on the edge, documenting roadkill on the side of the highway, and staying up all night painting under the streetlights.
You may listen to our conversation above.