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"We need fantasy to survive because reality is too difficult."​

Lady Gaga.

Escape.

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I live in the attic. And I paint.

The floors below me I never visit. They are lost to decay and silence. Moss grows on the furniture and dust motes hang in the air like winking particles in a snow globe. Ghosts inhabit the dark rooms, hungry and lonely and beckoning and there are wolves in the garden. The long grass hides many dangers - steel traps and ferocious small animals with diabolical intentions.

But these troubling aspects I can ignore because they can't penetrate my sanctuary. In here I'm safe.

In its long history the house  has accumulated a trove of curiosities, all of which are here. Antique birdcages hang in the rafters. Ancient scientific paraphernalia gathers dust - brass telescopes and jars of dubious content. Stuffed birds and Victorian mannequins wearing feathered hats and moth-eaten silk scarves cast their shadows against the sloping walls. A library of books form walls and clever secret reading nooks that are made comfortable with old turkish rugs and cushions, a reading lamp, a coffee pot and a box of dates.  

Orlando sits in front of the fire preening his feathers - or trying to. He's grumbling and muttering under his breath. It's clearly a frustrating task. Cat's aren't supposed to have wings and he's still getting used to his.

Wilma is sitting in her window seat, the night behind her vast and black. She's listening to some cheesy crime novel through her headphones and writing another letter to the friend she misses. 

 

Beside me on the easel is a portrait I'm working on, of a woman with a kind smile called Mrs. McDonald. I'm not even halfway through and already, in my mind, I've changed her name to Isadora Giordano and see her as a knife-thrower by trade - an infiltrator of masquerade balls at midnight - her blades secreted beneath her skirts - seeking the killer she can never catch.

 

Because faces are stories.

 

People are stories. 

     

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As a youngling I found people to be every bit as dull as those crusty paintings hanging upstairs in the Museum and Art Gallery. The Egyptian mummies were so much more interesting. Swords and armour and stuffed animals were better. The dinosaurs better still. But as I got older and listening to the radio became habitual, I was surprised to find I enjoyed listening to interviews - to conversation. I began to realise that all around me, stories and adventures were happening. Every person was the centre of their own tale. As with a book - a movie - I wanted to see into their life and know their story. Driven by ambitions, desires and fears, failures and conquests, I wanted to see it all. And then... those crusty paintings too, work by Titian, Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Dali. Renaissance to Pre-raphaelite to abstract expressionism. These artworks weren't crusty at all because they were stories too! Not just representations of a subject but a physical object touched and created by an individual who no longer exists. A portal into another time and place. A moment. An experience. A story. Captured on canvas. Frozen in amber.

 

A wind gusts through the attic shifting the bird-cages, creating a shadow puppet-show in the rafters. Wilma and I automatically shoot a look at Orlando who, as the perfect alarm-system is already frozen vigilant, despite his back leg poking inelegantly up in the air. His whiskers are stiff and alert. The moment is tense but quickly passes as the cat softens. "It's safe." He tells us. "It's just the wind. No one's here."

 

And we breathe again.

John graduated from Glasgow School of Art in Printmaking/Fine Art 2002. He lives and works in Glasgow.

John Gibson, Portrait painter, artist, Illustrator, Illustration, Glasgow