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‘Grady Kimsey: The Mind’s Eye’ at Crealdé gallery 

Primitive masterpieces are a suite of stories told in miniature

GRADY KIMSEY: THE MIND’S EYE

through March 29 | Alice and William Jenkins Gallery, Crealdé School of Art, 600 St. Andrews Blvd., Winter Park | 407-671-1886 | crealde.org | free

Back-to-back with the Publix shopping center on Aloma Avenue, the Crealdé School of Art sits on a pretty Winter Park lake, its art-school clutter and disarray ignored by the busy students and artists focused on creative endeavors. But across a sculpture-filled courtyard lies a cool, calm oasis of order: the Alice and William Jenkins Gallery. Right now, in this clean white box, Grady Kimsey’s 21 primitive masterpieces tentatively grasp modernity with tiny fingers and peer at viewers with resolute countenances, nonplussed by their surroundings, more alive and personable than some people I know.

Trained first as a painter, Knoxville-born Kimsey evolved into a sculptor, and now he integrates both. His newest project, The Mind’s Eye, reaches further to create individual tableaux, each with an allegorical name: “Melancholy Warrior,” “Catalpa Revival.” Each sits on a custom-made pedestal, with a painting as a backdrop completing the scene. One or more figures are staged, along with supporting elements ranging from houses to animals created from found objects and all weather-worn to some indeterminate, comfortable age, neither too old nor too new. A timeless spiritual serenity washes each piece, and the whole gallery is almost an elegy, too powerfully somber for an art reception of tinkling glasses and party chatter.

Kimsey’s tiny, jewel-like faces are exquisite. His gray-bearded “Road Merchant” peers up at the viewer, as if hopeful for a sale while his horse patiently rests. Some odds and ends are stacked in an old wooden tumbril set in front of the desolate winter steppe. His shaggy, shapeless rag-shawl blows in the windless gallery, an entire suite of stories told in miniature.

This is Kimsey’s indubitable genius, to connect with the viewer on an emotional gut level, without committing to a specific storyline for each piece. The viewer, the old saw goes, completes the work, and in these projects Kimsey meets you more than halfway. The love and care he puts into these characters makes them feel alive and reverberate with soul. Their proportions are such that the figures’ heads, slightly small for the size of their bodies, suggest dessication or great age; yet this distance is closed by their colorful dress, highly expressive faces, and the meticulously crafted settings in which these tiny souls get on with their lives. “A Compassionate Wait” is especially filled with pathos: Seven tiny, huge-handed figures hold up sticks and look up at a cloud-ridden sky. Red clay mummy-masked faces look up in earnest wonder, their high, reedy voices almost audible in mournful song.

Kimsey’s little worlds are convincing, yet many hint at tragedy and an almost Salinger-like solitude of purpose. One’s inner joy must be strong to contemplate these beings for very long; they get under your skin, pulling you away from the glitz and the speed of the modern world. This Winter Park artist, whose work is collected by the likes of Robin Williams and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, makes us pause, look under the surface, and consider interior space for a moment in time.

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