Images like David Bailin's at Koplin Gallery are excellent reminders of how apt a medium drawing is for negotiating the predicament of existence. Drawing, as practiced SO brilliantly here, is fluid, immediate, raw, direct. It embodies a kind of contingency familiar from lived experience. It can be forceful but forgiving. Marks can be erased, but the memory lingers, giving drawings the quality much like life itself of rough draftsperpetually in the making.
Drawings can also of course be tightly controlled, polished affairs. But Bailin opts for a restless, sketchy style. Working in short charcoal strokes on prepared paper, Bailin draws scenes that read like parables. In each, one person is shown, generally a middle-aged everyman, somehow reckoning with his place in the world. He is usually overdressed (in coat and tie) but seemingly under-equipped, for the challenges he faces are daunting.
In "Pickaxe," the man stands atop a huge boulder. This time he's dressed for labor, in overalls, and work he does. His pick is raised and about to come down on the rock. Bailin's variant on Sisyphean fate has an ominous twist: If the man manages to break apart the stone, he would succeed at his goal but, in the process, fall from his solid perch. We play the witness, all too aware of the trouble to come.
Both "Water" and "Garden" are intriguing images of biblical import. In the first, a man stands on the roof of his house, which bobs like a cork in high water. The sole cloud in the sky sends rain slashing down on him and only him. Is this modern-day Noah being saved or punished? Issues of worthiness seem to plague him, just as they did his ancient counterpart. In "Garden,' Bailin restages Eden as a fenced-in oasis of fertility within an unarticulated expanse of land beneath a coffee-stained sky. In the center of the garden stands a ladder, upon which the man has climbed. Shading his eyes with one hand, he surveys the terrain beyond his appointed plot.
As with the inhabitants of the original garden, this man seems a captive of his own privilege. He cannot help but look beyond his fence; it's human nature to ques tin boundaries.
Bailin, who grew up in South Dakota (and now lives in Little Rock, Ark.), brings his memory of the vast prairies to these drawings, which feel epic in scope although the characters within them are unheroic. They are ordinary men confronting the demands of the moment, which mirror the perennial circumstances of humankind.
They are trying to keep myriad forces in balance, forces earthly and divine, imagined and inescapably real. Bailin's drawings are remarkable chronicles of the effort.