Rescued Art

Dessin 1918All thrift shops smell the same, more or less. Some less if the lighting is bright or the floors are painted or they try to do some department store merchandizing as a way of making things seem upscale. The smell is of the mold that grows in cloth. (Store owners say it is the smell of the cleaners they use to kill the mold in cloth.) My eyes begin to water if the mold is too thick.

The mold makes everything in the shop seem the same somehow: the necessities like frying pans and baby seats blend with the art treasures and the slightly cracked glassware. And the customers all seem part of the mold. You can’t differentiate the buyers by necessity from the art rescuers from the antique dealers. We are all just pickers in a thrift store, united by the mold. It is a great pleasure for me, to be among the pickers. I feel I am participating in a modern day folk art.

The art is always at the back of the store. Thrift shops are designed with the buyers of necessity in mind. It is usually clothes they come for along with a treat for themselves which is often a piece of glassware for the kitchen table.

The Kandinsky was in the back, on the wall near the bottom. Its black and white attracted me immediately. I took a quick smell of the backing. I have learned if it smells like mold, it is probably beyond rescuing. The store manager will tell the clerk to take it out to the dumpster at some point. From there it will join the other discarded items of our culture, in the landfill, to rot until it becomes useful again as compost. In fact, I have come to trust my nose more than my eyes to rescue art. The eyes are usually dominant at estate sales, but at thrift stores the nose is king.

Yet, the Kandinsky was fresh smelling. It had either not been in the store very long or it had held out for its worth and beauty in hopes that I would rescue it. And the abstract depicted in the piece made it a bit invisible to the otherwise pervasive mold spores. Most thrift store art is a part of the mold, either faded florals or impressionists on cardboard. The spores couldn’t get inside the abstract black and white of this Russianpainter.

Following my nose, I rescued the Kandinsky. When I got it back to our barn studio, out of the reach of the mold, I could use my eyes once again and take a long quiet look at the piece. Kandinsky discovered that human eyes stay with an object longer if the object is unrealistic or otherwise difficult to determine. So he painted abstractly to hold his viewers. I was held, almost as if my mind went into an aesthetic spin asking: “what is that depicted there anyway?” While in a spin, the beauty of the print got me and I didn’t need to answer the question at all.