Those absurd working conditions we associate with the Kafkaesque -- bureaucratic cul-de-sacs, depersonalizing cubicles, psychic suffocation -- have been brilliantly visualized in recent years in the drawings of David Bailin.
Scenes by the Little Rock, Ark.-based artist star a lone everyman uniformed in suit and tie, confronting his unsettling fate. Grimness and humor chase each other’s tails.
In five stunning new charcoal drawings at Koplin Del Rio, Bailin imagines scenarios that might unfold after that numbing workday is done. He renders the angst of the solitary soul as atmospheric unrest and a dearth of environmental fixity. Buildings shudder. Trees tilt. The skies billow and break on the order of biblical mystery and portent.
Bailin draws with uncommon urgency, and erases with equal intensity. He stains the sheets with the warm patina of coffee, pushing the setting back in time to the indeterminate past. New to Bailin’s tool chest is color, applied sparingly in oil and pastel, with an intentionality that adds to the work’s emotional heft.
All five images are strong and immersive, at larger than 6 feet per side. “Ladders” is riveting. Bailin renders his alter ego from behind, heading down the middle of a residential street. The man doesn’t walk as much as tip forward, his shoulders and head subsumed by a cyclone of swiped erasures. Above him hovers a dark mass etched with fine concentric circles -- a target, or spiral of unease. The sky overhead is furious, defiant. A bare tree to the figure’s right angles toward him while its bony-fingered branches reach away, the air behind them tinted an eerie pink.
The marks in Bailin’s drawings are charged with immediacy. Each feels like a performative gesture, a physical reckoning with the existential moment. Like William Kentridge, he practices drawing as theater. The emotional density of much of Bailin’s earlier work was fissured with woeful hilarity. This series, “Dreams & Disasters,” is less Buster Keaton and more Edvard Munch or Van Gogh on their bleaker days.
In “Post,” the everyman struggles against powerful currents, winds that turn the sky and shrubbery into a frothing tumult. He appears to be drowning on land. “Stream” has him floating or falling just above a rough zigzag of intense aqua, as if propelled upward momentarily by a blast. Above him festers a dark, angry scrawl -- cloud and caption.
Throughout, Bailin plays with texture and translucency to stirring effect, conjuring the continuity between internal and external weather. In each scene, John Doe’s inner chaos assumes meteorological force. He endures his own private apocalypse, and the prospect is both daunting and familiar.
Koplin del Rio Gallery, 6031 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 836-9055, through Saturday. www.koplindelrio.com