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to dec. 16

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Kelly Towles’ work seems so effortless that it’s easy to overlook his jabs at the precious borders that stratify material culture. Street or gallery, crime or commodity, graffiti or illustration: What difference is there, after all, between one paint-enabled ideologue and another, except perhaps the delivery mechanism (aerosol or brush)? For his latest works, Towles again plumbs these depths, but he finds new figures unrelated to the trolls, oddballs, and Muppets that have populated his previous efforts. Some of his zany inventions persist: Along the gallery walls, for example, he’s painted a few of his Hanna-Barbera–inspired ghoulies and one of his signature demented boxers. He’s applied a raven, another favorite motif, in magenta tape over the second-story gallery’s window; visible from the street, the figure casts a long shadow through the gallery on a bright day—another example of the artist playfully thumbing his nose at the sanctified business of the white cube. The prints themselves, however, reveal a new and unexpected focus: earnestness. Towles himself makes an appearance in Self-unimportant, albeit cartoonishly, as a cigarette-puffing puppet sans strings; a gun-toting project chick and grimy lowrider in Bringer of Life and Eastsider, respectively, mark the artist’s transition from surrealist metaphor to an illustration that’s nearly journalistic. The artist hasn’t completely divorced his old marking system—the stray bits of graffiti abstraction are there, though they are confined to the visual onomatopoeia of a dog’s yaups and a banger’s dollar-sign-infused word balloons. But for the occasional boxing glove or peg leg, he’s ditching the balls-out comedy in favor of a portraiture more faithful to the street. The exhibition is on view from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, to Saturday, Dec. 16, at Adamson Gallery, 1515 14th St. NW, Suite 202. Free. (202) 232-0707. (Kriston Capps)