“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.
The “2” in “Kathy Wismar x 2,” Gallery 555dc’s latest exhibition, refers to Wismar’s split artistic identity: She’s both a painter and a potter. As displayed here, the two forms seem linked by a common palette. One of the two large abstract canvases, “Visitation,” is predominantly white, albeit with many other colors visible both above and beneath the heavily worked surface. Wismar’s ceramics rely on a similar sense of contrast, although more tidily. Most of her cups, bowls and vases are white, with one vivid hue for the rim and the inside. (Rarely and thus surprisingly, the interior will be in a third shade.) Grouped by their accent color, the pottery leads the eye to “Visitation.”
This affinity is just a coincidence. Only one painting here uses white the way “Visitation” does, and most of the canvases are quite small and feature rough blocks of vivid, even seething, color. There’s little visible kinship between Wismar’s elegant ceramics, with their delicately toned whites and subtle use of red, yellow or green, and her thickly painted acrylics.
In abstract painting, size matters, which is one reason that “Visitation” and the show’s other large canvas, “East 74th,” upstage the smaller ones. But the bigger paintings also seem richer and calmer, even though only one of them is heavy on white. (Hot oranges and yellows dominate “East 74th.”) These large works showcase a new direction for Wismar, and it’s a fruitful one. There’s no particular need for her ceramics and paintings to resemble one another, but the connection bolsters both in this show .
Rather than work in different media, Mary H. Lynch combines two into one. The pieces in “OFF the SQUARE,” at Touchstone Gallery, look like sculpture but are actually painting. Using shaped canvases, the artist creates suites of three-dimensional wall pieces, often painted to suggest stone, metal or wood. These groupings include “XOX — Hugs + Kisses,” which is three X- or O-form pieces whose surfaces impressively simulate brushed aluminum; and “Construct — Deconstruct,” a 17-piece set of irregular hexagons in mottled shades of yellow, orange and brown that suggest earth, scales or honeycombs. (The piece was inspired by the international decline in bee populations.)
Lynch’s skill at using paint to simulate natural or metallic surfaces is extraordinary. “Flight,” a duo of winglike abstractions, appears to be made of rusted steel, while “3 off the square” looks like white-painted wood. But the most engaging pieces go beyond that ruse to challenge expectations of how art should be placed. Two of these works turn a corner, as if unwilling to stay still. While the twinned parts of “Flight” could fit together in only one configuration, “Construct — Deconstruct” can (and has) been arrayed on a wall in different patterns. It’s as if, in allowing her paintings to become 3-D, Lynch has given them the life to move, stretch out and maybe even roll over.
“Natural Selection,” the current show at Heurich Gallery, includes four sculptures by Paul Wolff, which perform the neat (if familiar) trick of making such materials as bronze and concrete appear sleekly aerodynamic. But most of the space is devoted to Amy Lin’s airy drawings, which usually arrange dots into sinuous or gridded patterns. It might seem unlikely that colored pencil marks on white paper could claim more room than sculpture, but Lin works on a large scale; the biggest of these pieces, “Persuasion,” is taller than a pro basketball player.
Lin’s color choices, as well as her titles, sometimes evoke nature. It’s logical to think of water when green dots turn to blue in “Currents,” and “Persuasion” loosely intertwines two coils of red and purple dots, suggesting partially unraveled DNA. But the most involving of the drawings, “Sacrifice,” uses only black pencil. Inflating her customary dots into various sizes of bubbles, and delicately shading their perimeters, Lin creates an illusion of depth that encourages prolonged gazes.
Caos on F Group Show
On view through Oct. 29 at Caos on F, 923 F St. NW; 202-215-6993, www.CaosonF.com
Kathy Wismar X 2
On view through Sept. 30 at Gallery 555dc, 555 12th St. NW; 202-393-1409, www.Gallery555dc.com
OFF the SQUARE
On view through Oct. 2 at Touchstone Gallery, 901 New York Ave. NW; 202-347-2787, www.touchstonegallery.com
Natural Selection: Drawings by Amy Lin
On view through Dec. 7 at Heurich Gallery, 505 9th St. NW; 202-223-1626, www.downtowndc.org/go/the-heurich-gallery.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.