“I never understood artists that need light and fresh air for their studio. My studio is a bunker," says Arkansas artist David Bailin laughing. "It is a place where I know that am safe and I can bring my insecurities, angers, and frustrations." (Excerpts from interview with David Bailin on February 11, 2014.)
Bailin's large-scale drawings, often five feet square and larger, are layered with pentimento imagery, stains, and erasures that create a texture over the sur face of the paper. "As draw the figures I am modeling their faces on myself, my father, or my brother,' he says, "but the characters are Buster Keaton living within a Kafka story or parable." The pinstriped-suit office dwellers in Bailin's Paper Trail drawings spend their days within strange corporate and natural environments that suggest Sisyphean labors as they push file cabinets through flooded wastelands, stride purposefully upon ramparts of stacked books, or light fires in their briefcases. These same figures also inhabit his Dreams and Disasters series, a collection of disintegrating landscapes that evoke the sensation of dreams and nightmares half-forgotten upon waking.
Typically working through a series over several years, Bailin finds that when he becomes a bit too proficient in his technique, the body of work is coming to a close. A quote by painter Milton Resnick has become a touchstone for him in this process.
(Artists) begin to be too good, too capable-too technically able to do whatever it is they're doing. Then their technique eliminates them from falling to the bottom of the pit. Enduring pain can be avoided altogether. They have acquired the technique that keeps them from suffering. At that point, a funny thing happens, they're no longer good artists. It happens to almost everybody. When they get to be old, a very few can escape it. Resnick, quoted at https://blog.pshares.org/discovering-milton-resnick/
Bailin says: Many artists find this pit terrifying and try to find ways to avoid it. This "pit" is something I really don't want to experience, but it is invigorating in a way. It is connected to the idea that if doing the art doesn't have some blowback for you, if you don't feel that there is some frustration and irritation and anger in the process, then, why do it? have friends who can't understand how anyone can do any work if they are not in the "zone" where there is no sense of time, where you are making correct decisions, and everything is working beautifully. I dislike that. If I wanted that would watch TV. For me the "pit" usually lasts about six horrible months and during that time I give myself permission to make terrible artwork, make mistakes and explore different type of techniques without the feeling that I am working on something important. But that doesn't make it any easier to get through. (David Bailin, interviewed February 11, 2014)
A pivotal interaction with an important gallery director earlier in his career had an impact on Bailin.
I have always been sincere in the drawings, but when I was younger it was important to make a grand statement. I was full of bluster and tended to define originality in terms of rejection and synthesis. By rejecting current art practice and synthesizing seemingly opposite styles I thought I could create original, breakthrough art. The gallery owner told me that the work was ok, but he didn't see me doing it for more than a few years. "I don't see you in this stuff" was the phrase he used. Initially I was defensive. It took a couple years to realize that I had all these ideas and requirements for the work, but really didn't leave room for myself. Now I see originality as finding a way in which the work, the techniques, and methods, matches who you are, your thinking process and the theme you are exploring. (Ibid.)
More recently Bailin has developed his Erasing series, a body of drawings made in response to his father's Alzheimer's diagnosis. In the series, Bailin faithfully draws images from his father's photographs, then erases sections of them, leaving ghost images and scarification across the surface of the paper. The works clearly reference Robert Rauschenberg's erased de Kooning drawing, though Bailin is quick to point out that making the original drawings himself is a key difference. It is feeling the loss of all my work and meaning. "The final work in the series will be erased right to the ground" he says. "Much like my father's memories, they will be entirely gone.