"I'll put it this way: In the wrong hands, that picture is a portal for domination of the beast."
Let's just start with that statement, spoken by one David Barnes with an expression on his face of a man who has seen things. Things that you may find hard to believe, things that, you may feel, give sanity as most people know it a run for its money. Things that he does not doubt in the least.
David is 40, an eastern Texas native. He is joined by Debbie, his wife (they've been together 25 years), and his brother Daryle in telling his strange tale, which will take us from a lost work by Pablo Picasso to:
Messages from God (and perhaps from Picasso himself).
Long-hidden art troves.
Visions of coming tragedy.
Visions of boundless charity.
The return of Christ.
The end of the world.
And it all began in a Dumpster in Scottsdale.
About 22 years ago, Debbie's grandparents were living in a retirement community in that city when they befriended another couple who were in the habit of Dumpster-diving. You never know what somebody's going to throw away. One haul yielded a small work in a chrome frame, a stark, familiar image of black on white, two stick-figure fellows on horseback. The name at the bottom was Picasso, the piece was "Don Quixote and Sancho Panza." The couple gave it to Debbie's grandparents, who hung it on their wall until Debbie's invalid grandfather decided he didn't like it anymore; Don and Sancho were banished to a closet.
When Debbie and David moved into a new apartment, Grandma gave them a bunch of things, including the Picasso. They had it up, had it down, and each time Debbie would put it out with yard-sale stuff, David would rescue it. In 1975, the Barneses were moving; everything they owned was on the back of a truck. They blew a tire, flipped four times and skidded hundreds of feet, and almost everything was destroyed, says Debbie.
"The only things that made it through that crash was the painting and my Tupperware."
And then . . .
"One night about two years ago, one of my girlfriends was over," says Debbie. "It was on a Sunday night, and we were just sitting around talking about family heirlooms, so I dug this thing out of the closet--we used to joke about it, about 'our Picasso.' She had studied art at ASU, and she started really looking at it. Then on Monday night she came back, and she had about 120 different books. She had spent the entire day in the library, and she said, 'I think what you've got is a Picasso.'"
The Barneses knew as much about Picasso as Picasso knew about them, but Debbie and David hit the books. They went from library to library, they photocopied page after page, they traveled through a local network of those knowledgeable about art, hoping to find someone who could tell them exactly what was in that cheap chrome frame.
According to the couple, this led to a man in a gallery in Scottsdale. (Repeated calls to the gallery brought nary an answering machine, only a phone that rang and rang.)
"We called him, told him a little bit about what we had, and he said to bring it down," Debbie says. "I didn't want to go with them because I was just too scared. David and Daryle called me from the gallery and told me what happened, and I didn't believe them."
According to Daryle, this is what happened:
"He said, 'Let's see what you got.' We had it in a pillowcase, so we took it out and handed it to him. He looked at it and started sweating real profusely and handed it back real fast and said, 'My insurance company would kill me if they knew this was here.' He literally fell against a wall and slid down on his back and said, 'You don't know what you have!' Me and Dave were looking at each other like, 'What's up with this guy?'"
Debbie says the man at the gallery immediately set up a buyer willing to pay $4 million, but they were not going to jump just yet. Besides, they were suspicious of this man, whom Debbie says was "acting too funny, like we were long-lost buddies or something."
They decided to go to the source.
"We called the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, Spain, and through a translator they asked David four questions," Debbie offers. "The size of the paper, the size of the image, what the texture was like on the front, and was it the same as on the back. After David answered those four questions, they said, 'All we have allotted now is ten million.' We didn't know if that was in Spanish or American money."
All this despite that no real expert had yet to hold the work in his hands and make a pronouncement. That's when the Barneses called Samuel Heath, at the time (about two years ago) director of the Meadows Museum of Art in Dallas, specializing in Spanish art. He told them if they wanted to make the trip, he'd take a look.
Now let's back up a little bit, back to the night after the initial meeting with the man who slid down the wall in a Scottsdale art gallery.
"I locked myself in my bedroom, and I started studying that thing. And I saw demons come out of it. And the more I studied it, the more Picasso started talking to me," says David. "He started telling me about this picture.
"There's stuff in this painting that is going to come out in the End Times, when Jesus comes again. I could give you numbers down to the year when Christ is going to return. If you read the Bible, you know that there's an elite few that Jesus says He will give true knowledge of Scriptures, just to help out things."
David says he really hasn't gone to church much since he was 14 or 15 and describes himself as "a regular old Joe." It is also David's belief that he is a "direct descendant of Jesus Christ."
"It's hard for someone in this almost 21st century to perceive all this," he says. "Modern Christianity, the way we know it, is so wrong. You have no idea.
"When Jesus Christ returns, He'll be in a spaceship," explains David, who says this information comes from God. "I could show you in the Bible ten places of Him entering a ship in a desert place and the disciples following Him on foot.
"That's why the government has covered up so much. The government, the United Nations, the League of Nations--it's inevitable that they are the antichrist. Look at the world; it can't go on that much further. And I'm one of the ones that was picked in the End Times."
There is, of course, more. Though David is all out of cigarettes at this point, he carries on.
"The painting tells Picasso's death, if you add the numbers up, the day and month and year, it's the day he died [actually, it's off by a year. The artist passed on in 1973; the date of the painting--11+8+55--adds up to 74]. He's also telling--this is what I've been told," David says, eyes directed to a heavenward source, "was he had a little black thing going with the dark side which he couldn't tell nobody, so he did it through his interpretation of paint. . . . His hand was being manipulated by black sources while he was drawing. But God was over on Satan again, because if you turn the picture upside down, there's the face of Christ.
"Also, before the war, Picasso knew that the Nazis were going to come through Europe [and steal art] so Picasso and Matisse and some of the others he would hang out with went through and bought up as much of the old stuff as they could and hid it from the Nazis. After the war, for some reason, they decided not to tell anybody where it was."
David alleges there is a map of Europe in the painting (which, by the way, he believes was originally done over a work by Goya). The map reveals the locations of these invaluable caches of art. There are forces at work, he tells me, to prevent this information from surfacing, forces in "the underground art world."
And, if you thought it was safe to begin breathing again, wait another second. For David claims there is one more thing that can be found in this mother of a painting.
"It tells all the people that were in Picasso's satanic circle, the high-level government officials that were in his circle. It'd be like finding out that President Clinton is going out on weekends cutting the heads off chickens. You wouldn't want that to get around."
So David, Debbie, Daryle and another couple loaded up their unique Dumpster find and headed off to Dallas. On the way, there was plenty of time to mull things over, plenty of time for something to happen. Which it did.
"We did a lot of talking," Debbie says, "and everything that David had said happened: It was going to be a long, drawn-out ordeal, we were going to lose everything we had, everyone was going to ridicule us and they'd think we would be off our rocker. And that we were going to have a hard time making people understand, or even listen to us with an open mind. And David said we might lose some of us on the trip."
I wasn't sure what that meant. Turns out that David's best friend, his "fishin' buddy," became the casualty.
"He was driving," Debbie reveals, "and the exact instant he saw what the picture showed when you turn it upside down, he lost his mind. The exact second, there wasn't even a breath between. We had to leave him in Amarillo after a long, half-day experience of drawing guns; he thoroughly believes to this day that our trip was to take him out and kill him so Pam [his woman] and Daryle could be together. And Pam and Daryle had just met that day."
Samuel Heath recently left the Meadows Museum. I phoned him in New Hampshire, where he is readying to move to Bolivia, the native land of his wife. Heath had not forgotten David, Debbie and Daryle.
"They called me up and told me their story, and I listened to them seriously and didn't blow them off," he says. "They had a print which was pretty clearly a reproduction and not particularly valuable."
Debbie remembers Heath distinctly saying "this painting is definitely Picasso, you can tell by his style and flair." In January of '95, the Barneses drafted a letter through a Phoenix architect friend stating that Heath was "99.9 percent convinced of the authenticity of this piece."
When I relate some of this to Heath, he sighs.
"Their story was one of these wonderful things--how someone was trying to sort of hunt them and they were holed up with a gun in the house because they thought they were going to be robbed, and they saw a certain religious or mystical significance in it. That's one of the wonderful things about working in a museum, you get queries that are out of the blue. This is about as far out of the blue as I've ever seen."
So if this particular "Don Quixote and Sancho Panza" was not the authentic piece worth millions that David and Debbie and Daryle say they were led to believe from no less an authority than the late artist himself, what was it?
"Picasso did a drawing, probably pen and ink, that was then used for a series for some sort of a lithograph for this literary magazine," Heath states. It did, in fact, appear in a publication called Lettres Françaises, and the magazine offered "special" copies for sale at the Festival of Mankind in 1955.
"This was a limited-edition run, but limited in mass quantities," Heath says. "These were probably not fine-arts prints coming out that Picasso signed and dated. If you had in your hands one of that edition, then you might have something that may very well be worth $250. Or $1,000, or $50.
"It's an image that probably everyone has seen in Life magazine or whatever, and when you're explaining the difference between an original and a reproduction to people who aren't familiar with how art is produced, that can be difficult. And I was trying very hard not to be a snob.
"They were good people, they were obviously not out to make a quick buck. And I didn't want to destroy any illusions. If God is speaking to them through this print, hey, I'm not the one to say that's bunk."
I ask Heath if, in his attempt to be a nice guy, he was confident that he had made his point clear. Again he sighs.
"Yeah. I tried to be as clear as possible. Whether they walked out hearing loud and clear, I don't know."
Of Heath, Debbie says this:
"I trusted him, but I wasn't sure what his game was."
Upon returning from Dallas, Debbie and David had to make some serious decisions about what to do with this thing.
"We talked about it and decided we could either put it in the closet again, or give it everything we've got and do the research on it," Debbie says. "I'd called ASU and they said it would be anywhere from $8,000 to $12,000 to research the painting [this involved computers, travel and experts]. We didn't have that kind of money."
They decided to continue the crusade regardless of whether they had the money. So the couple quit their jobs. David was a supervisor for a construction firm, Debbie worked at Wal-Mart; David received a "very large severance check," plus the couple had their savings to live off of. Going on David's visions, the couple still believed the piece of art could generate not only a load of money on its own, but, if they could access the hidden treasure map to unearth the long-lost European masterpieces, the coffers would be truly swollen. All for the cause of good.
"By this time, all of our greed had passed," David states. "We were spending the money [in our heads], but we were spending it on trust funds for our nieces and nephews so they didn't have to worry about college, and ways for elderly to get medicine without Medicare."
When the right person comes along for the painting, "I'll know," David says cryptically. "God told me that I was to benefit from it because of a covenant that had been promised from the beginning of time. . . . He told me that Debbie and I were destined to meet because she was going to give me this piece, and it was meant for me to have because I could control the evil in it. If we got greedy, it would be cut off, but the funds would be about $120 million."
Then Daryle chimes in.
"We're giving it all away!"
"This is meant for my family and poor people," David reveals, "and my journey is to continue in a different way and then I'm gonna die."
The visions still come to David, but he says they are no longer exclusively painting-related. The work was "a tool that got me to see visions," he now says. "As far as I'm concerned, the painting is mediocre." And, according to a letter the Barneses received from Sotheby's in New York, there is no reason to believe their Picasso is authentic. But that hasn't stopped the Barneses' faith in the painting, or at least the power of the painting, and David's current batch of visions is anything but mediocre.
"TWA Flight 800," says brother Daryle matter-of-factly. "Dave seen it happen two days before it happened."
David continues with his facts.
"It was shot down by a ground-to-air missile. It was shot from a strip of sandy beach, wasn't populated or nothing, and it was a UPS truck that was backed up, and they popped the doors open, and they had a launcher."
He had a vision about the Olympics, "saw the guy that hid the bomb--actually, there's two of them--he's a short, red-haired dude, kind of a Poindexter-looking guy. There's another guy who's heavyset, a fat guy. The guys that did the bomb walked by the camera on TV, and I said, 'That's the guys that did it.'"
David's most recent revelation is that there will be a "major eruption" somewhere around the Volcano Islands, Iwo Jima or possibly from Mount Fuji. You heard it here first.
"Nowadays when I have visions and stuff, it's not black and white, and it don't look like a photo or a movie or nothing, it's like clear images of the past you would have thinking of your past," explains David. Except it's of the future. "I do know that there's supernatural things that happen on this planet because the Bible tells you they do."
As for "Don Quixote and Sancho Panza," the painting, lithograph, whatever it is, it spends most of its time these days in a reinforced briefcase in a bank vault, say the Barneses.
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If most of their objectives have yet to be fulfilled--free drugs for the elderly, trust funds for their relations (a personal disclosure: David said I can have 10 percent of whatever they sell the artwork for)--they are continuing to do God's work.
And they are persevering, even though they know their story looks strange from the outside.
"We're not weird, we're not drugged out or anything," Debbie says with complete conviction. "We're just ordinary people that this happened to."
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