CULTURE- ART FEATURE- </span>Strata-sphere: Layered probings in Staunton

"Is that a real bone?" a young boy asked, staring wide-eyed at Jamey Grimes' wall sculpture "Convergence" at Staunton's Kronos gallery. He could hardly be blamed for thinking the tactile curves and pores of the intricately carved basswood work had organic origins. The two-part piece evokes spongy marrow or a peach pit or a complexly eroded rock formation in a canyon or cavern— something resulting from non-human forces.

This visceral sensation of natural elements at work is a compelling quality shared by all but two of the abstract sculptures in Grimes' current exhibition, "Strata." What makes Grimes' aesthetic fascinating is how he often manipulates obviously synthetic materials— acetate transparencies, mylar, and corrugated plastic— in ways that seem to propel them into the biosphere. In "Flow," for instance, hundreds of identically cut acetate shapes, ranging from opaque black to translucent grey, spread across a wall, evoking clouds drifting in the sky or duckweed floating on a pond.

The most structured of Grimes' works are five pieces from his "Outside-In" series. Each 18-inch square wall-mounted box contains 18 layers of mylar sandwiched between 17 balsa frames. In two pieces, precisely drawn and cut concentric circles in the mylar layers contrast with vertical and horizontal wooden beams that extend into the boxes at perpendicular angles.

In the other three boxes, Grimes turns this precision on its head by introducing the controlled chaos of fire, burning through his orderly layers with a butane lighter. The charred edges and mylar remnants resemble the sedimentary walls of a canyon or an inverted topographical map. Juxtaposed with the right angles of the beams, the effect is stunning.

In other works, Grimes has used not only heat but also wind, via a fan, to coax layers of corrugated plastic (the industrial type used for political signs) into lacy, geologic shapes that bow and turn in graceful gestures. His most recent piece, "chasm," shifts from simulated to actual movement, calling on viewers to reach amid hundreds of thin steel rods, planted and suspended in Kronos' elevator shaft, to initiate a kinetic reaction that calls to mind long grasses rippling in the wind. 

Grimes' physical and conceptual fusion of natural elements with manufactured materials is both interesting and fresh (that rarest of qualities in the art world). Plus, his work is crazily under-priced, making it an excellent holiday option for your favorite abstract art lover.

Jamey Grimes' exhibition, "Strata," is on view at Kronos gallery through January 6. 14 Byers St (on the wharf), Staunton. 540-213-1815.