By Mark Jenkins
washingtonpost.com >

“Arts and crafts” is an oft-heard phrase, but purists see the two not as a pair but a choice: art or crafts. Increasingly, though, artists are exploring both.

One place designed for such crossover is Caos on F, founded by painter Michael Berman and cabinetmaker Matthew Falls. The gallery sells furniture and textiles as well as paintings and sculptures, and it encourages collaboration by its stable of painters, sculptors and designers. Caos stands for “coalition of artists on the other shore” — a reference to how Berman and Falls met on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and also to their intent not to design objects for offshore mass production.

The largest piece in Caos’s current group exhibition is a “wooden wall” designed and built by Falls, to which Berman added a slash of black pigment. The construction suggests a hybrid of two traditional Japanese forms, the shrine gate and the interior screen, and the curving black line invokes traditional Asian calligraphy. But the wall is not all that traditional: It has an asymmetrical framework, contrasts rough-edged wood with finished and features spinable slats instead of sliding paper panels. (Also, Berman’s brushwork doesn’t literally say anything.) The Japanese aesthetic has influenced Falls’s work but doesn’t confine it.

The show’s other participants are Tanja North, David Harp, Chul Beom Park and former local restaurateur Carole Greenwood. Harp’s two photographic landscapes show water at rest (a wetland) and in motion (a waterfall); North’s four near-abstract watercolors evoke the inlets of that other shore, which is reflected in the series’s title: “Bay Composition.” Park and Greenwood both construct mixed-media wall sculptures. The former’s employ multiple levels of painted wood, decorated with lithographed pop-art images; the latter’s assemble plaster, wood and found objects — the clash of formal and free-form unified by white surfaces. None of these pieces could be used to hide a large-screen TV, as one of Falls’s wooden walls has been, but that doesn’t mean the show’s art combats its crafts. At Caos, the boundary between the two is as porous and shifting as one of North’s coastlines.