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 (206-587-4033 or www.ggibsongallery.com).
Christopher David White: “Against the Grain”
Virginia ceramic sculptor Christopher David White is an illusionist of the first order. In his hands, human flesh and decaying driftwood can become one and the same thing. He’s able to fashion his clay into robin’s eggs that look tasty enough for a raccoon to eat. He can depict a human heart in sufficient detail to pass muster in an anatomy class — never mind that it’s oozing black crude oil from one of its ventricles (the title of the piece: “Good Til the Last Drop”).
In his artist statement, White writes, “I utilize trompe l’oeil as a stylistic choice to emphasize the concept that our understanding of the world is an illusion.” To achieve his extraordinary effects, White fires his pieces without glaze, then paints them with acrylics. His driftwood textures are so finely rendered that you worry you might get a splinter if you stroked them. They also seem to be frozen in a process of combustion: charred at one extreme, sea-bleached at the other.
Strong ideas complement his bravura technique. In “Too Hot to Handle,” an extended hand holds a globe that’s melting. Other pieces tap into psychological territory. In “Split,” for instance, a nude male figure calmly parts his skull in two. It’s a little like watching a mind nonchalantly dismantle itself. Three pieces named “Nailed It” show placid faces failing to react to a large nail driven into each of them. The suggestion seems to be that when calamity happens, we don’t always know what hit us.
This is strong, driven work that reflects our broken world back at us.
11 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays through Jan. 13. Abmeyer + Wood Fine Art, 1210 Second Ave., Seattle (206-628-9501 or www.abmeyerwood.com).
“Making Our Mark: Art by Pratt Teaching Artists”
Featuring nearly 300 artists, this big survey of talents who have taught at Seattle’s Pratt Fine Arts Center over the last 40 years includes work in every possible medium and style. Big names include Mark Calderon, Marita Dingus, Preston Singletary and Tip Toland. If you’re keen on abstract or conceptual art, you’ll find plenty to your taste in “Making Our Mark.” But for me, the eye-catching figurative pieces are the highlight of the show.
Ruthie V.’s “Sisters,” an oil-on-linen hanging scroll, is especially haunting, showing one sister with a double face and, possibly, double arms, while the other sister, facing away from the viewer, stays unknowable. “Revolution (climate change bowling ball)” by Barbara Noah shows Earth in a state of alarm. Noah achieves her effect by cutting three holes in a NASA photograph of our planet — one for its horror-stricken mouth and two for its panicky eyes.
Dan Loewenstein’s “3 Boys” is an installation of three men’s sport coats stiffened with epoxy resin and facing away from each other. The suggestion of isolated youngsters trying to fill a hollow masculine role is powerful. The 20 watercolors of Linda Thomas’ “Floating Babies” spin variations on a different kind of existential solitude as each infant sleeps, squirms, wails or vacantly stares in its own little world.
On the sculpture front there’s particularly impressive work. Toland’s ceramic piece, “African Teen with Albinism,” delivers her inimitable mix of grotesquerie and profound empathy with its young female subject’s painful, baffled expression. Several glass artists excel as well, including Mary Van Cline, Jeanne Marie Ferraro and Janis Miltenberger, whose extraordinary “Collection of the Wanderer,” in borosilicate glass and oil paint, is composed of tree leaves, branches and berries.
Many pieces date from this year — and some take furious aim at the Trump era. You could almost say “Making Our Mark” delivers a snapshot of the state of liberal Seattle’s soul.
11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. free first Fridays, through April 8. Bellevue Arts Museum, 510 Bellevue Way N.E., Bellevue (425-519-0770 or www.bellevuearts.org).