Step into the newest exhibit at Hampton's Charles H. Taylor Arts Center and it won't be long before you realize you've ventured into something different.
More than 400 works hang from the walls of this relatively modest gallery, yet instead of grabbing your attention because they're flashy or big they do it by being wonderfully plentiful and small.
None of the diminutive paintings, prints, photographs or other images on view here measures more than 20 square inches in size, in fact, and some weigh in at considerably less.
That's why noted artist and gallery manager James Warwick Jones and his staff have filled a basket by the entrance with magnifying glasses that viewers can use to get a up-close look.
"That's the thing about miniatures. You can't just give them a glance and walk by. You have to get up close," Jones says.
"And when you do you often discover they are more interesting because they are small."
Made up of images and objects produced by 190 different artists, "Small Works: Miniatures by Hampton Roads Artists" ranges from landscapes, portraits and still lifes to interiors, architectural studies and sculptures.
This year's show even includes a collection of seldom seen and pocket-sized artist's books.
Year after year, "Small Works" ranks as one of the gallery's most popular exhibits among both artists and viewers not only because of the challenge of working small but also because of the distinctive aesthetic impact generated by pictures and three-dimensional work designed to grab your attention and pull you in.
Just look at Jon Moneymaker's "Inferno," which takes an epic landscape view and crops it down into a slot-shaped panorama of only an inch in height but with at least 20 inches of seemingly never-ending horizon.
It's hard not to feel the sustained, slightly undulating line of the blaze tug at your eye, in fact, then steer you along the path of the fire as it rips across the ground, bursts into a dancing wall of red, yellow and orange flames and finally erupts into a turbulent, sometimes wildly billowing curtain of black and gray smoke.
No wonder juror Diana Blanchard Gross — a former curator at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center — gave this tiny but impressive scene an award of merit.
"It's a smart idea," Jones says, describing the amount of visual information the York County artist crams into his letter-slot format.
"And it really draws you in."
Scores of other works here exploit that response in evocative ways, including two unusually petite still lifes hardly bigger than large postage stamps yet boasting the power to reel you in within a few inches of their surfaces.
In "A Bag Full," Carrollton artist Gemma B. Wallace transforms a little plastic bag of ripe red cherries into an image that's much smaller still, yet so ripe as a study of color, composition and form that it may compel you to devote an unexpected amount of time scrutinizing and admiring how it was painted.
Williamsburg artist Nicole McCormick Santiago gets an equally big bang from her diminutive portrait of "Two Cupcakes with Sprinkles II," where her deliciously sculptural swirls of frosting and seemingly casual but rhythmic spray of sprinkles draw a remarkable amount of attention to a sight that's seldom so celebrated outside of kids' birthday parties.
The more you look, the smarter and better this minute homage to the world of pastry appears, almost to the point where you can smell and taste it.
Small photos make a big splash here, too, including several landscapes that distill very large spaces into images so compact that it's hard to believe such a shift of scale is possible.
In "Roman Palm," for example, Virginia Beach artist Britta Hershman packs an expansive urban architectural scene made up of several multi-story buildings and a lone palm tree into a rectangle not much more than 6 inches square – including the soft edges of an image designed to echo the imperfect look of an early photograph.
Yorktown artist Genevieve Neal produces a similar kind of magic with a tiny Polaroid portrait of a giant fishing pier jutting out into the water.
"A lot of miniatures give you less to look at," Jones says.
"That may be why you look at them more."
Erickson can be reached at 757-247-4783.
Want to go?
"Small Works: Miniatures by Hampton Roads Artists"
Where: Charles H. Taylor Arts Center, 4205 Victoria Blvd., Hampton
When: Through Dec. 1
Information: 757-727-1490 or http://www.hamptonarts.net
Online: Go to dailypress.com/entertainment/arts to see a video from the show.