Monday, February 9, 2009

Sunday Scribblings: Art


I looked around the art studio to see if anyone else had witnessed the theft. I appeared to be the only one.

He had slipped the painted canvas in his messenger bag in one, seamless move as he bent over to collect his conveniently dropped notebook: Open bag flap, stuff notebook, tuck painting, flap down. Just like that.

I glanced again at the art thief as he fingered the curtain of his dark, chin length hair behind his ear. My brow furrowed as I stared at him, wondering if I’d really seen what I thought I saw.

His head went up and he caught my glance. Normally I would have looked away, shied at having been caught staring. I didn’t look away though. I couldn’t. What was he thinking? He winked at me…seriously, winked. Who did he think he was? His look told me he was trying to play it cool, not sure if I’d seen him take the painting or not.

Since the beginning of the school year I’d been taking BART into the City to attend a special after-school program for High School students at the Museum of Modern Art. It started out as a field trip for the Art Club. Ms. Cowl had taken a group of us to view a collection of photographs of surprisingly sensual bell peppers and other veggies by Edward Weston.

Each week a museum docent would present a different artist featured at the MOMA. We’d sometimes even get behind the scenes tours of the museum. As the weeks passed, fewer and fewer of my classmates came to the MOMA and finally, Ms. Cowl stopped coming too.

I didn’t mind going by myself. There was something about spending time in the substantial, granite-pillared museum in the heart of the city that made me feel very sophisticated. I mostly stuck to myself, taking in the grandness and excitement of it all. There was always a different group of kids each week along with the few of us who were regulars. Whether it was shyness or something else, I made no effort to get to know anyone else.

Take this art thief, for example. He was a regular. I’d noticed him over the last few weeks, quiet, introspective, or so it seemed. Apparently he was just casing things out to plan his heist.

This particular week we were on a fieldtrip. We’d taken a bus to a local artist’s studio. He’d shown us around his huge, warehouse-like work space, art table, rolling carts filled with little tubes of paint in thalo blue, mars black and cadmium red and yellow, empty coffee cans filled with brushes of every size and shape, and of course, large and small canvases leaning up against the back wall.

We sat in chairs over by the canvases. I was mesmerized by the organization in the chaos of all those canvases. Most were blank, waiting to be filled, but some had still lifes with what appeared to varied combinations of walnuts, a glass of water and dominos, a hammer and a chipped blue bowl.

As the artist explained his process of getting a concept from his mind, to his sketch book and finally onto a canvas, or in one case, into a statue made from hundreds of pounds of 12 gauge wire, the stacks of canvases kept drawing me in.

As the students now filed out of the studio, back to the bus waiting to take us across town to the MOMA I held back, deliberating. The artist was chatting with the museum docent who’d accompanied us. I was definitely too old to tattle. Besides, I was pretty sure art thief knew I’d seen him swipe the painting. He’d know it was me who told.

I didn’t want to ignore the theft, but I also had a personal rule about avoiding confrontation at all costs. I debated what to do, but was undecided still. An anonymous note maybe? As I walked through the doors leading out of the studio I gasped as I almost bumped right into Mr. Art Thief himself, loitering just outside the door.

“Hi.” He said. “Pretty great studio, huh?”

“I guess.” I said, trying to play it cool as my heart rate slowly started returning to normal.

“I mean, he makes being a professional artist seem like a pretty sweet gig.”

“Uh huh.” I said, rolling my eyes, purely for my own benefit.

“So, I’ve seen you here before. You come, like, every week right?”

Oh. My. Goodness. Did I really have to endure this awkward chit chat? I wished I was on the bus already, far away from whoever this guy was.

“I live in Pacifica. I take BART from Daly City.” He said, so confident that this information was something I’d be interested in.

“Uh,” I interrupted, “I saw you take that painting. You need to give it back. You could probably just run up there right now and…”

“It’s not what you think.” He said.

“What? You didn’t steal a painting that wasn’t yours and put it in your book bag?” I said stopping to look right at him.

“OK, I guess it is what you think.” He said. I shook my head and walked off leaving him behind.

I reached the bus, got on and chose a seat surrounded by plenty of other kids. I’d normally find someplace quiet where I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone, but I didn’t want Art Thief sitting next to me all the way back to the MOMA.

He was the last to get on just before the bus pulled out into traffic. I’d positioned myself well. The only place for him to sit was in the back of the bus. He made his way down the aisle and as he passed, lurched towards me as the bus made a sudden right turn. He grabbed the seat and quickly recovered, continuing on to his seat.

I looked down, wanting to retreat into my own thoughts when I saw a folded piece of binder paper that hadn't been there before, now sitting in my lap.

“Ugh.” I thought. “Leave me alone!”

I considered throwing it out the bus window, but you know: “Give a hoot, don’t pollute.” I shoved it in my bag, planning to toss it in the trash when we got back to the museum.

Curiosity, however, beat out my annoyance and I opened the note.

“Please trust me.” It read.


Tara said...

Nice work, Afton! So intriguing! Is there another installment coming soon?! This just can't be the end. I have to know why she should trust him! I don't think I'll be able to sleep at night! I just have to find out. ;-)

Afton said...

This is as far as the story got in my head this morning at 3am when I woke up and couldn't go back to sleep. I don't know what happens next.

Jeanne said...

WHAT!!?!?!??? You can't leave me hanging like that!!! I'm impressed Afton.

5keelers said...

ok I need more...Or maybe you are just telling us how you met Robert!

I-Shüan Warr said...

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!?? You can't just post that and leave us all hanging!

Debbie said...

Mean Mean Mean!!! I also need to know what happened next! You are such a TEASE!