It's the early 90's, I’m in my mid-twenties, visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. I'm just enjoying the art in each gallery, taking it all in, then turn a corner to be suddenly dumbstruck.
In front of me is Velasquez’s portrait of Juan de Pareja (1650). I swear the lights dim on everything else but that painting.
Stunned into silence, I lose interest in anything else.
Back then I wasn’t a painter yet. I was an illustrator creating whimsical images for corporate and advertising clients. (Things like a cartoony stick of talking butter, a grinning greased pig, or elephants and donkeys, for clients like VeryFine juice, IBM, or Reader’s Digest).
Being a "real" painter seemed like a distant dream. But down deep it’s what I longed for.
That day at the MET, long before I knew it, an essential foundation was being laid. Without it, I would have had no chance of becoming a good painter.
I first needed to be transported by the paintings of others. Blown away. Reduced to tears. Gob-smacked.
I will always be grateful that Velasquez did that to me all those years ago. Because before anything else, I needed to be a lover of painting.