Rescued Art

My Son Paulo as Harlequin

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When the thrift store employee brought out a cart of priced and sorted items from the back of the store, out of the room behind the swinging doors all smudged from being banged into by the rubber bumpers on the cart, pickers rushed to see and touch the bargains first. Anxious pickers often buy items before they even make it to the shelves. There is a rush and anticipation of finding a treasure that drives the pickers.

The employee was a cool boy, bored with, even disgusted by, the pickers who rush at his cart. (“Don’t they know this stuff was donated to our store because nobody wanted it? This stuff was thrown away!”) He simply wheeled the cart to an open spot and sulked away, hoping the poor pickers would buy it up so he wouldn’t have to shelve it at all.

Packed against the side of the cart, jostled by piled up stuff, sat a print of a famous painting by Pablo Picasso: “My Son Paulo as Harlequin.” I didn’t need to rush and elbow my way into the cart; most pickers see treasures in things other than art. ‘Treasure’ seems to depend on what a picker lacks in their lives. In this store, they lacked usable aluminum muffin pans and usable stereo speakers. I waited until the rush was over and smiled as I picked up the harlequin.

Picasso identified himself with the harlequin, a mysterious fool character from the circus of 19th century Europe. Circus performers and painters were somehow the same for Picasso; they both were ridiculed by society people and were always on the margins. But the harlequin could also do magic and juggle, forcing the people to pay attention and be aghast.

Picasso married a woman 50 years younger than him. She was tall and agile and dark. He was short and gray and chubby. He must have used harlequin magic to make her adore him; they created a son named Paulo, and he served as the model for this painting. He sits relaxed of body, but his eyes and mouth are quizzical and far away. He may have been resigned to sit for his mighty father. Or, perhaps, Paulo somehow realized that he might one day find himself in this thrift store, passed over for usable housewares, shirts, and plastic toys.

Paulo’s harlequin face called out to me to be rescued. Maybe he could be hung on a wall in a sunny corner of a country villa like those in France or Spain where he might once again display the joy of his famous father’s eyes. Where he might do his harlequin magic and bring joy to the eyes of us rescuers who found him among the stuff thrown away.