The Face in the MIrror (Guildhall School News)

By Gillian Shimwell

The glass is not so seductive now, nor the reflection so engaging.

Decades past it was part of my discipline to gaze – and in the ancient basement we would take our place, one mirror to each seat, our vision briefly patched with dark and dazzle.  Using our palms as palettes, we would mix the fatty-smelling colours and transform the face in the mirror.  One week we painted age upon our dewy countenances, but clear eyes shone through, despite the whitened lashes.  This was not an exercise in drawing lines; we were to prophesy our geriatric visages with fingertip precision.  I can recall the benign apple dumpling twinkling back at me, and the odd sensation that she had arrived, and was waiting, in the glass, to be me.

Life does a painting of it’s own, however, which no greasepaint, laid over a fine boned youthful face, can foretell.

The face I live behind, of course, is the one that beckoned me to mirrors once, and not the one these new mirrors, with their faulty perceptions, thrust at me.  That face is in a drawer, and there is much behind it, I sometimes think, as there was in it’s flat mimic in the glass.  Perhaps I’m being a little hard on myself here; maybe my problem was not shallowness so much as illusory depth.  A mirrored face is less truthful than a good portrait, seeing ourselves as we do from the other side, and with no dimension, and of course, posing for ourselves.  An artist cuts through all that.

My old young face, the deep-eyes one with cheekbone hollows and an artful lip was the face my husband swore he still saw, marking no change in me.  Now that face is truly only in the bureau drawer, as past and gone as the old postcards of Vesta Tilley in her picture hat, and the moment of his enchantment – which was not, that day, mutual – is a myth, or nowhere, or in the atoms of a broken mirror in the banks of the Thames.

Read more about Gillian HERE

Published in the Guildhall School News – Autumn/ Winter 2011


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