A new exhibit at Gari Melchers Home and Studio challenges the viewer to look for connections between works by well-known painters from the past and their modern contemporaries.

"The New Reality: The Frontier of Realism in the 21st Century" features works of artists from all over world who practice "Realism."

Curator Joanna Catron defines realism as the "artistic effort to reproduce the illusion or the visual world around you on a two-dimensional surface."

"There are different degrees of realism," she said. "Some is very tight and precise, so you almost want to touch it."

Other artists go less for precision and more for the authenticity of a setting or personality.

Each work has a small photograph of the older work it is based upon, making it very interactive. Catron wants visitors to slow down and really look at the painting and how it's related to the older works.

Indeed, one of the first things you should do is look to see what medium was used to create the work--as some of the works look so real that they could be photographs.

Linda Lucas Hardy uses colored pencils on sandpaper to create "Now You Know." It's a modern update on Paul Cezanne's 1873 "Green Apples."

Hardy drew apples resting in a plastic produce bag. The majority of the work is the plastic bag--and to her credit, she puts so much detail in the bag that it really looks as if it is sitting right in front of you.

Ken Fuller used oil to paint "Violin & Money," which is based on Otis Kaye's 1938 painting of the same name.

According to Catron, in the 19th century, people posted important things on their doors--and for a time, it was fashionable to paint pictures of doors.

Fuller's painting is very similar to Kaye's, with both having a brightly colored door covered with coins, keys, bank notes and violins.

The door and knob plate in Fuller's painting are so true to life that you can see the layers of rust.

One of the more thought-provoking paintings is "The Procession" by Gail Gash Taylor. It's based on a painting by Ando Hiroshige, "Japanese Women Walking by the Ocean."

Taylor re-creates the very two-dimensional repeating pattern of waves and Japanese women in traditional clothes--and then plops a three-dimensional horse down in the middle.

Catron said during Hiroshige's time (early 1800s), Japanese painters were very two-dimensional. Later painters started realizing they could paint things more as we see them.

There are more than 40 works in the exhibit.

"The New Reality" would be a great exhibit to take older children to, or to impress visitors over the holidays.

Regardless, it is a must-see for both art lovers and those wanting to learn more.

Shannon Howell is a Fredericksburg-area writer.

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