A new series of photorealistic paintings by Clay Kanzler is on display at the Gallery at Somes Sound through October. PHOTO COURTESY OF GALLERY AT SOMES SOUND

Kanzler on reflections, memory, moments when light breaks through

MOUNT DESERT — Clay Kanzler has had reflections on the brain.

One day not long ago, he was looking in a window in a town hall in a small Vermont town. An artist and lifelong Seal Harbor summer resident, he lives in Woodstock, Vt. in the winter.

“When you look through a window you can see into the room,” he said. That’s one of the things you see. But also, “the glass is reflecting what’s behind you.” That makes two different scenes your eye is seeing at the same time. If there are any windows in the room you looking into, there might be three or more planes visible at the same time.

Paintings in Clay Kanzler’s new series include layer upon layer of memories, many from old photographs, but they’re painted all at once. The girl in this image is Kanzler’s daughter Amy, and the young man in a cowboy hat is the artist many years before Amy was born. Kanzler also includes a remembered childhood living room and faces of people he’s been praying for. PHOTO COURTESY OF GALLERY AT SOMES SOUND

“I started painting these window reflections,” he said. “And I realized, I can make my own reflections.”

He has new series of paintings playing with this idea, in which the things that come to mind when looking at, say, the ocean, or an old photograph, are visible at the same time.

“Your thoughts are so stacked up,” he continued. “You’ll remember something someone said. I just like trying to stack all those different threads on top of each other … that’s how life is.”

The series is featured at the Gallery at Somes Sound through Oct. 31. A champagne reception with Kanzler is set for Saturday, Oct. 12 from 4-6 p.m. Sculptures by Katie Bell will also be featured.

Kanzler said he’s excited to show this new body of work.

“As a painter you’re alone in your studio most of the time,” he said. It’s a bit of an adjustment when “one, or a couple, days a year you take your cape off” and have a public appearance. But it’s also interesting to see what people think.

“Quite a few of them are really dark,” he said, reflecting tragedies he has lived through, including the loss of a child.

“Stuff happens in life. You don’t have to go far to find life playing out.”

He does also still have simpler, “beautiful paintings,” he assures folks.

But for some pieces, “I like the idea of some of the paintings being so personal that you almost want to turn away. Like, ‘Gosh, could you just have him stop, please.'”

Part of the point of paying attention to the dark places, he said, is “thinking of how God’s light will break through our darkness, into our past wounds and fears and hurts.”

A section of this painting is based on a photo from the 1960s of Michael Gaylord, longtime tennis pro at the Harbor Club in Seal Harbor, executing a jack-knife dive off a high diving board. PHOTO COURTESY OF GALLERY AT SOMES SOUND

Several of the paintings feature beams of light, of bright colors or photos reflecting happy memories, interrupting a gloomy scene.

Those intrusions reflect a sense that “there’s something else going on around you,” he said. “We live in a spirit world. I’m fascinated by it and curious about it.”

One such happy memory is a photo from the 1960s of Michael Gaylord, longtime tennis pro at the Harbor Club in Seal Harbor, executing a jack-knife dive off a high diving board.

“He helped raise my friend Asa Phillips and me,” Kanzler said of Gaylord, who back then they called “Mr. G.”

“I think of all the foggy, drippy, rainy days we’d go and just sit in the tennis shop with him. He had been a paratrooper in World War II. He would tell the best stories.”

Other old photographs are “images of living rooms, threads from growing up.”

He paints from photographs, with impressive realism.

“For years and years I painted outside,” he remembered, even in high winds when he’d need to tie his easel to a tree to keep it from blowing away.

“Now my paintings are so big and complicated that I couldn’t drag them out of the studio.”

He sketches the whole piece first and slowly working across the canvas in a single layer.

“It would probably be easier to paint over the top, I just don’t know how to do that,” he said. “The paint is so gloppy, and I try to keep [the paintings] clean and smooth. So [the viewer is] more caught up with the image than the person who created it.

“I couldn’t paint this way in acrylics, it dries so fast,” he noted. “Even with oils, you really only have one day.”

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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