New Kid on the Block

Robert “Clay” Kanzler shares his large-scale oil paintings in a recently opened gallery space in downtown Stuart

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Robert Clay Kanzler, photo by Thomas Winter
Clay Kanzler, photo by Thomas Winter

Visitors to Stuart’s First Friday gallery walks may have noticed a new artist space during their most recent stroll. RCK Gallery, the first gallery by oil painter and seasonal Stuart resident Robert “Clay” Kanzler, opened its doors in March to add to the already robust downtown art scene. And while his work has been represented by other galleries in places like New York, Detroit, and Boston, Kanzler is looking forward to having his own space to feature other artists and host events and fundraisers.

“I can really make a difference with this place, which is so exciting,” says Kanzler. “I can actually move and shake.” He chose Stuart for his gallery location because of its ever-growing community of makers, and he has already begun recruiting local artists for future exhibitions.

The Back Hall (1996), Robert "Clay" Kanzler
The Back Hall (1996)

Kanzler, who grew up between Jupiter Island, Maine, and the suburbs of Detroit, loved to draw as a child and spent his summers attending art school. It wasn’t until age 15, however, that his skills really began to develop. “My mother saw an ad by a professional at the Center for Creative Studies [in Detroit] who was doing tutorials,” he recalls. “She hired him to do tutorials with me for the summer, and my life was never the same. I was hooked.”

After attending Trinity College and Rhode Island School of Design, Kanzler moved to Vermont and began focusing exclusively on oil painting. His large-scale pieces—which average 6 feet-by-6 feet in size—cover a variety of subjects, including portraits of friends and family members (he is a relative of Henry Ford) and seascapes that remind him of his childhood roaming Jupiter Island. There are several recurring elements in his paintings, but each one is unique in its use of lighting and color. 

Annie, Clay, and Dior (2006)
Annie, Clay, and Dior (2006)

“None of my paintings look like I had intended,” he says of his work, which, because of its size, can take the better part of a year to complete. “That’s why I keep painting—they just take on a life of their own.”

Jamie (2008), Robert Clay Kanzler
Jamie (2008)

Over his decades-long career, Kanzler has shared his talents in many ways, volunteering as the artist- in-residence for a Vermont high school for 12 years and at a prison for 6 years. He also uses art to share his faith and help those who may be suffering by incorporating their hands, faces, or other features into his artwork as a form of prayer.

Says Kanzler: “My artistic dream would be that someone stands in front of one of my paintings and is so touched by God and by his beauty that their life changes—that there’s an energy to them that can reach out and help someone.”

Kanzler splits his time between homes and personal studio spaces in Stuart (where he has had a residence since 2004), Maine, and Vermont. He spends most of his time enjoying the ocean, volunteering, and, of course, oil painting. It is the only medium he works in because he’s intent on perfecting his oil work. “It’s going to take me another 100 years to figure this one out,” he says.” RCK Gallery, 614 S. Colorado Ave., Stuart

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