At a local Goodwill, Phoenix artist Thrift Creeper slinks inside with a knick-knack he purchased there just weeks earlier. He’s not seeking a replacement or a refund, but a reaction would be nice.
Thrift Creeper, who chooses not to reveal his real name, sets the item, once a gentle ballerina figurine, back on the shelf where he found it. Except now, the dancer is named Karen and looks nothing like her original self. Gone are her arms, legs and red hair. Karen’s back is ribbed, pink and porous. She has a body encompassed by a long, vertical mouth with 16 sharp teeth and beady black eyes.
Put simply: Karen is creepy. The artist behind her appearance wouldn’t have it any other way.
Thrift Creeper is a Phoenix artist gaining traction on Instagram for his anomalous and accessible approach to painting and sculpting. He travels around to thrift stores in the Valley, purchasing small figurines and repurposing them as spooky one-of-a-kind collectibles.
After finishing the project, Thrift Creeper returns his new creation to a thrift store and shares the location on social media. His followers will compete to find the figurine first, with some even arriving just five minutes after he drops it off.
“If anybody from any background or economic status can find a piece and own a piece of art that somebody put a lot of time into, regardless of age, gender, race, anything, that’s just amazing to me,” he says.
Each piece typically costs Thrift Creeper between $2 and $10, but he asks that whoever finds it donates to the store or charitable organization where it was located.
“I just like to have fun,” he said. “People ask me if I have a plan when I’m making things and I don’t. Usually I just play around like a 4-year-old with Play-Doh until I think something looks interesting.”
Thrift Creeper first started this adventure in December 2020 as a way to occupy some free time due to the pandemic, but his interest in art started long before last year. Thrift Creeper says he’s been interested in art since infancy. And still, his artistic process is flexible, to say the least.
In just nine months, Thrift Creeper has amassed over 2,000 followers, but doesn’t take commissions or orders — for the most part. His only accepted commission came from a fifth-grade class. He read them a book about accepting monsters as they are and the students asked for a monster of their own — a five-eyed penguin named Blueberry.
“I say no to commissions, but I couldn’t say no to that. A bunch of 10-year-olds requesting monsters?” he says with a laugh.
Thrift Creeper’s passion for the ghoulish and spooky has been present for nearly as long as his interest in art in general. He loves horror movies and calls Ed Roth one of his biggest artistic inspirations.
“My earliest memories when I was about 4 was just being obsessed with Frankenstein,” he says. “And that just stuck with me.”
Now, making monsters of his own, Thrift Creeper is finding new ways to escape mundanity, still working a full-time job and pursuing his figurine art on the side. But that contrast can make for a complicated experience.
“What’s unfortunate is it does make the other side of your life more difficult,” he said. “When you start this thing that brings you so much joy and passion, the other thing looks a little bit dimmer.”
Thrift Creeper hopes to turn this into a full-time gig down the road, aspiring to create his own line of figurines that others can paint themselves. But for now, the artist is just enjoying the “mischief.”
“I think that’s the word that best fits what I feel and what I want in my pieces,” said Thrift Creeper. “It’s just mischief, something that’s going to stir the pot a little bit, anything to throw people off-kilter from their usual expectations.”
It’s in that obscurity that Thrift Creeper captures hearts. After dropping his monster named Karen at Goodwill, Thrift Creeper stuck around for a bit to see who might notice. An older man took interest and called a friend over to check it out.
“This is the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen at a Goodwill,” the man exclaimed.
“And that is the best compliment that I think I can ever get,” Thrift Creeper says.