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 drafts perpetually 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 question 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.
Koplin Gallery, 464 N. Robertson Blvd., L.A., (310) 657-9843, through Jan. 4. Closed Sundays and Mondays.
Pseudo-nature is hip but sterile
We can't know nature except through culture, and if the culture of the moment is technology driven, then it's not such a stretch to envision organic systems in mechanical terms.
In part, that's what Alyson Shotz does in her installations and photographs at Lemon Sky. The works are visions of pseudo-nature, products of the marriage between nature and artifice, the beautiful and the abject. They're relentlessly hip, but only mildly engaging.
"Indoor Gardening," as Shotz calls her two installations, sounds like an oxymoron, but we have brought the outdoors in, not just to the home but also to the lab. Shotz has constructed fragments of generic interiors with vinyl flooring and fake wood paneling. The look is domestic but sterile as a laboratory, the site of a bizarre experiment.
On the floors of her two mini-structures stand clusters of tall bamboo-like stalks on wheels. The stalks are made of slim metal rods and hose bibs, wrapped, painted and sheathed in a rubbery coating. They're connected to one another -- and to the installation's constructed walls as well as the gallery walls -- by tubing. Nearly all the forms are a uniform pea-soup green.
We've stepped into a suburban nightmare here, some kind of alien visitation or sci-fi fantasy, at once absurd and terrible. The sheer weirdness of it locks the gaze.
Shotz's photographs subscribe to a more conventional beauty, but they are born as well of mutation. Called "False Branches," they show various plant forms grafted onto one another -- through the wonders of digitization -- to create a thicket of stems, leaves, cactus spines, lotus blossoms and mushroom caps. Glistening rods, like branches after an ice storm, act as connectors, giving the network of shapes the look of a complex molecular diagram.
The eye jitters about, trying to impose some logic on these mysterious skeins of live matter, but none holds. It's a brave new world Shotz introduces to us, should we be brave enough to embrace it.
Lemon Sky: Projects + Editions, 5367 Wilshire Blvd., L.A., (323) 931-6664, through Dec. 21. Closed Sundays and Mondays.
Debut show glimmers brightly