‘Sea Change’ and allusions to climate change among artworks at local galleries in January

Here are some shows of note this month at local art galleries.

Curious creatures of the mind are ushering in the new year at Seattle-area art venues.

Justin Gibbens: “Sea Change” Gala Bent: “Particle Playlist”

Trained as a scientific illustrator, with some background in traditional Chinese painting as well, Washington artist Justin Gibbens combines naturalistic detail with surreal flights of fancy in his “subversive zoological drawings.”

In his new show, he focuses mostly on the cetacean world. His “Decoy” paintings, in watercolor, gouache, ink and tea on paper, show frolicking whales with cartoonish shark teeth. In “We Can Joust or We Can Just Make Out,” two aquatic animals sporting unicorn horns do indeed seem poised between sparring and canoodling.

In some works, Gibbens drops whimsy for melancholy metaphor. In “Plume,” he depicts a whale as a burning oil well. In “Sigh,” a blowhole exhalation takes a fatal-seeming blood-spraying twist.

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In “The Squid and the Whale,” he turns the tables on predator and prey, as a gigantic pink squid swallows a miniaturized whale. There’s a sense in all of “Sea Change” that Gibbens isn’t just toying with zoological fantasy, but creating a visual shorthand for the creative/destructive ways our own lives go.

The odd painting out is “Daisy Chain,” in which a flamingo and three other long-beaked birds seem to be engaged in an orgy, as depicted by John James Audubon.

Seattle artist Gala Bent’s graphite/ink/colored pencil/gouache drawings in “Particle Playlist” tend more toward abstraction. But the titles she gives them elicit a creaturely essence. “Fluent in at least three languages,” for instance, plays with contrasting forms — organic, crystalline, geometric — that intersect and interact in ways that almost make them feel sentient. Other drawings with equally evocative titles (“Ruffle and Flutter,” “Rock with a Mouth of Jewels,” “Magnetic Trio”) also reflect the animistic energy with which Bent imbues supposedly inanimate forms.

In both its variety and its playfulness, her work has an affinity with Paul Klee’s — although her visual vocabulary and the ways she combines and recombines motifs are distinctively her own.

11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays, 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays, through Jan. 20. G. Gibson Gallery, 104 W. Roy St., Seattle…

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