My friend Sean is not someone I’d describe as an effusive man. A fan of Japanese design, expensive sneakers, and avant-garde juggling that borders on performance art, I would generally describe Sean as quiet (and bordering on morose). However, on hearing that I would be waking up early the next morning to ride a Greyhound three hours to watch Picaso Jr. juggle at a fair, Sean’s eyes lit up. “Oh Picaso Jr. will be there?!” he said, “I love that man. He’s the best!”
To me, that story best sums up the effect Picaso Jr. had on people. I first saw Picaso juggle in Barnum’s Kaleidoscape when I was 10 years old. I vividly remember a beaming man running through the seats, pushing people aside, and even sitting on a few laps while somehow keeping two plates magically aloft. Who was this man and how was he able to climb on and over a crowd of cynical New Yorkers and make them enjoy it?
Born in 1969 in Spain to a father who was a famous juggler himself, one would assume that Francisco Tebar (Picaso Jr.) had his path already laid out for him. However, considering himself too shy for the stage, Francisco went on to study to be an economist. It was only during his mandatory military service in North Africa that he began to juggle again to relieve his boredom. To make a long story short, juggling overtook economics as his passion, and what started as one performance contract led into a long and wildly successful international career. Highlights included being only the fourth juggler in the history of the International Circus Festival of Monte Carlo to win the prestigious Silver Clown Award. However, the fascinating thing is that perhaps it was this decision to pursue his passion and take a sidetrack from his original path that made him so endearing to watch. Upon hearing of Picaso Jr.’s passing, I called a friend who had toured with him on Kaleidoscape. The friend began to talk about how Picaso didn’t have to be a juggler, how he had trained as an economist and his wife was a lawyer. They were in the circus because they had made the conscious choice to be there. There’s something beautiful about watching a performer from a multigenerational family of artists and knowing that for him the performance is more than just a show, it is his life and culture.
However, there’s something equally beautiful about watching a performer enter the ring and seeing his entire being say, “I can’t believe I get to do this and be here with you right now. How lucky am I?” This is pure speculation, but I believe that latter description was what made Picaso Jr. so exciting to watch. He lived out his fantasy, and by doing so invited all of us to live out ours. Picaso Jr. was the type of performer that I hope we all aspire to be: generous, spontaneous, charming, and a true master of his craft. I hope he knew just how big a gift he gave the world through his work. Rest in peace.