Urban build up: Zabawa and Braitman get vertical

Agnieszka Zabawa, "Up in the Sky."
Agnieszka Zabawa, "Up in the Sky."

Have you seen Work of Art, Bravo’s latest Project Runway-esque reality series? I was skeptical (understatement) that artists competing against each other in weekly challenges would make for compelling TV, but it’s surprisingly entertaining. Last week, after driving through Manhattan, the artists undertook the task of representing their impressions of New York City.

It’s too bad Charlottesville painter Agnieszka Zabawa wasn’t there, because she’d have had no problem creating a visual answer to this challenge. In fact, she has 15 of them on display in Chroma Projects’ current exhibition, “Uncounted building-wall windows multiplied a mile deep into ash-delicate sky,” which also features glass sculpture by Jackie Braitman.

For Zabawa, New York is a thicket of multi-windowed skyscrapers that loom and lurch over silhouetted pedestrians moving antlike and anonymous on the sidewalks below. Zabawa creates energy by combining media, drawing rough window shapes in pen or crayon and filling them with dabs of paint for panes. In her cartoon-like cityscapes, pastel-colored buildings bend under their own weight, and the only vehicles are yellow cabs seen from overhead.

Which is the problem (perhaps only for me): I feel like I’ve seen these images before. There is a clich© at work that calls to mind animated films that open with the camera zooming down through tall buildings before picking out a protagonist from the city’s bustling throngs. The sense of familiarity makes it easy to miss some of Zabawa's interesting innovations, such as collaging-in a piece of notebook paper so the squares of its perforated edge serve as windows in “Uncounted building-wall windows,” or painting over pasted-in newspaper in “Shadows of the City.”

In her two most successful pieces, “Up in the Sky” and “Relationships,” Zabada abandons her pastel palette in favor of chalkboard-like surfaces, reminiscent of gritty city pavement. Instead of looking down, the perspective is skyward, and Zabawa creates frenetic energy with marks ranging from white scratches to translucent brush strokes.

Jackie Braitman’s four geometric glass sculptures provide a calm contrast to Zabawa’s paintings. Each rectangular “Silo” is a variation on a theme consisting of four elements: a vertical on one side with an inside curve matched by two abbreviated elements on the other, between which a small cylinder rests. Braitman’s colors are meditative and delicious, including pond-water greens and a raspberry-sherbet purple.

Together Zabawa’s hectic compositions and Braitman’s subdued constructions offer complementary impressions of an urban landscape where the sky’s the limit.

“Uncounted building-wall windows multiplied a mile deep into ash-delicate sky,” featuring paintings by Agnieszka Zabawa and glass sculpture by Jackie Braitman, is on view through the end of July at Chroma Projects Art Laboratory. 418 E. Main St. on the Downtown Mall. 202-0269.