Fayette County

Newcomer captures Lexington in stunning art. Here’s how that happens.

Mark Ratzlaff painted the historic former Lexington courthouse earlier this fall. He has painted various buildings and areas of downtown Lexington since moving to the city in June.
Mark Ratzlaff painted the historic former Lexington courthouse earlier this fall. He has painted various buildings and areas of downtown Lexington since moving to the city in June. Paul Atkinson

Equipped with a brush and an easel, Mark Ratzlaff has been a recent fixture of Lexington’s downtown.

Ratzlaff moved to Lexington last summer from Bloomington, Ind., and is often spotted near the tall buildings of downtown re-creating the city’s landscape on a canvas.

Claiming he’s obsessed with the visual world, the Missouri State University graduate and Missouri native said the city’s downtown has fascinated him because of building height that he wasn’t used to seeing in his previous hometown.

“I wish I could say why I want to paint a tall building; I guess the novelty of it,” he said. “I didn’t have that in Bloomington. The tallest there is six or seven stories.”

“The stuff I paint,” he continued, “I paint it because I think it’s beautiful.”

He has ten oil paintings of downtown Lexington posted on his website. They showcase the city’s architecture, new and historic buildings, and bustling streets full of traffic. His work includes portraits of the historic former Lexington courthouse (now called Courthouse Square), the Square (previously known as Victorian Square) and various intersections of the city.

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Mark Ratzlaff frequently can be found downtown turning Lexington’s landscape into paintings. Mark Ratzlaff

Several of his paintings have captured the construction of City Center (previously known as CentrePointe). The pace of work and change at the site has made painting it tough.

He often spends an hour or two at a time painting a scene throughout a three or four-week period, he said. While painting City Center, he had to stop early because the construction kept getting ahead of his work.

Working on a painting of Vine and Limestone, featuring City Center to the right, the building was just two stories when he began but six stories when he was finished.

Ratzlaff has shared several of his paintings on Lexington’s Reddit page to positive responses from followers. He said the positive reinforcement was important.

“I want people to care about what I’m doing. Everybody does,” he said. “If I didn’t get positive reinforcement, I wonder what I would do different. Would I stay in my apartment and paint self-portraits? I don’t know.”

Since his paintings are done over several weeks or months, each portrait is more like a “diary” of several moments, he said.

Mark Ratzlaff moved to Lexington last summer. His paintings have been praised. Mark Ratzlaff

Lighting is the biggest challenge for Ratzlaff because he prefers to paint at dusk.

“Lexington is laid out in a diagonal and it’s like I am going blind here,” he said. “I don’t know if this shadow I’m painting at 5:30 on a Tuesday will still be there Friday because of the way the sun is moving. I haven’t figured it out yet.”

For his painting titled “Last Light on Main Street #2,” he said “it was just amazing watching the light move across the buildings, change colors and shapes, while chasing tail lights, the deepening colors on the horizon, the street lights coming on just before dark.”

In the future, Ratzlaff hopes to work on paintings in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. bridge downtown and possibly in the Distillery District. Many of the locations he paints he spots while walking his beagle, Lucy, he said.

Ratzlaff, who was convinced by a friend to move to Lexington, said he hopes to stay in the city.

You can view more of Ratzlaff’s art at www.markratzlaff.com.