July 6, 2007
Cross Franz Kafka with Buster Keaton and you might end up with something like David Bailin's terrific charcoal drawings at Koplin del Rio, each featuring an everyman negotiating the space between terror and the absurd. Our protagonist occupies a bureaucratic world of an earlier generation: offices, labs and hallways filled with heavy wood furniture. He is ever looking for a way out.
In "Opening," he stands on a platform gazing out a small window high on one wall, about where the obligatory window in a jail cell might be. This room is a prison of a different order, a narrow, claustrophobic space packed floor to ceiling with shelved books and papers. The man, in late middle age, dressed in work shirt and slacks, peers out from the clutter as if searching for a reprieve from his own circumscribed life.
In other scenes, the man raises his fists against invisible demons, prepares to exit through a dislodged ceiling tile or ponders his untied shoe, oblivious to the massive tree branch that has pushed its way through an office window and broken through the roof. "Apparition" has him standing atop a desk, considering an even taller pile of paperwork teetering on the table's edge.
Visual order and psychic chaos maintain a tenuous balance in these engrossing images, as do their opposites, disarray and calm. Bailin, based in Little Rock, Ark., creates utterly convincing settings for predicaments of an allegorical nature, musings on conditions of being. He injects his images with a dynamic sense of contingency, much as the animated drawings of William Kentridge do. The paper doubles as chalkboard; smearing and erasure are visible parts of the process. Toning the sheets in coffee, Bailin infuses them with a warmth under the charcoal's velvety grays. In so doing, he also adds another subtle layer of friction - between the caffeinated compulsion of the workplace and the expressive, primal escape of drawing.