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The Street Artist

Updated: Jun 26, 2020


| This is the 384th story of Our Life Logs |


I was born in Sighthill, Glasgow, in 1983. I grew up on a large council estate with high-rise flats as far as the eye could see. It was full of crime, poverty, and drug addicts. I remember playing in the park as a child and there would be needles scattered like leaves. Buildings were often graffitied and cars set on fire.

I was the oldest of four brothers who were as close in age as could have been possible. We had our own little gang and ran around the estate, often causing trouble. We were often in fights or being chased by other people, it was a tough area to grow up in, but that’s the thing, you don’t get to choose at that age. And really, it was all our family could afford. Our mum was always busy working or cleaning—just trying to hold the family together. As for our dad, he was often drunk. And he was a mean drunk.

We had to endure beatings from our dad regularly. He would often take his anger out on the family, especially if he had had a few drinks. But it was more painful to watch him punch our mum. As the oldest, I was the one that always tried to stop him, and as a result, I would also be hurt more often than not. We all wanted to stop him, but I usually ended up feeling helpless. I knew that when I grew up and was as big as him, I would be able to protect my mum. I started lifting weights from a young age; I knew I wanted to be stronger.

Which brings us to my school life. I would practice fighting with other boys at school.  I often got myself in trouble and was even suspended from school for a week for fighting. I didn’t really mind, honestly, I only really liked school for playing on the football team and the social life it gave me, especially since I wasn’t all that bright academically. I never really paid much attention to the lessons, instead, I would draw funny little cartoon characters to entertain my friends and even made flipbooks with the corners of my jotters.

As I approached the upper grades, art classes became less finger painting, and more my style. My teacher said I was quite good and always encouraged me. Other children were always impressed with what I had drawn or painted. Art class became the only thing I ever looked forward to. I loved painting and dreamed of getting a job designing comics when I was older.

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When I was 14, my younger brother and I secretly decided that we would kill our dad when we got older. We made a pact that we would do it when I was 18. It was just a matter of waiting to see what the following four years would bring. Although my mum was living in difficult circumstances, she loved and cared for us as best as she could. During my childhood, I longed for a father who loved me. I didn’t understand why my dad was so angry and why he liked to drink.

I left home when I was 14 because of my father’s anger and violence. For the first few days, I didn’t go to school, had no contact with my family, and slept at various friends’ houses until their mums started asking too many questions. With no other options, I slept rough for a couple of nights in damp allies and behind bins. In the moonlight, I saw the silhouettes of drug dealers and criminals walking the streets. On the third day, I bumped into a friend. He said my mum was worried sick and that the police were looking for me. He told me I should get my ass home if I knew what was good for me. I felt like no one understood; no one knew what it was like living with the fear of violence all the time.

Reluctantly I returned home, I had been gone for less than a week, but it felt like a lifetime. I was tougher and thought I didn’t need anyone. I would survive on my own.

I started using marijuana and skipped more and more of school. I ran away from home two more times and always returned for a similar reason. I didn’t want to leave my mum. Still, she encouraged me to work hard at school. She wanted me to do well so that I could get a better job than she had and make a better life for myself. I wish I could have at the time.

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Of all the classes I skipped, I never missed my art class. I was encouraged by my teacher and the school careers adviser to think about what I wanted to do after school. I decided straight away that I would study art, even though I wasn’t sure where this would lead. I dreamed of one day seeing my work in a gallery or my cartoons printed in the newspaper.

A few years later, I decided to move away from home by studying art in Dundee. Although I worried about my brothers and mum, I figured that they would have to look out for themselves. I couldn’t be expected to sort out my family’s life.

The first couple of months at art school flew by. I enjoyed the course and liked meeting new people. However, I was soon running out of money and had to find a job. But then I seemed to be either working all the time or partying hard which created little time to study. My life seemed pointless, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to get a job from studying art anyway. Marijuana no longer dulled my anxiety. I started to experiment with harder drugs such as cocaine and heroin, finally becoming a drug dealer to help pay my way through my first year at art school.

After completing one year of a three-year course, I returned home for the summer to stay with my family. Their problems seemed worse than ever. My mum was at her wit’s end and was planning to leave my dad. My brother told me that if my dad hit my mum one more time, he was going to go through with carrying out our plan to kill him. He seemed angry, and his eyes were red and bloodshot. I worried that he had been experimenting with drugs as I had. In the end, I stayed in Glasgow and didn’t return to finish my course.

I knew I had to do something before my brother took matters into his own hands. I managed to find the number for a helpline. I called and told them about what had been happening. They were great and managed to find a place in a safe house for my mum and my brothers with her, but as I was over 18, I was considered an adult. The authorities asked if I felt that I was in any danger as they could open a new case for me if I was and find me alternative accommodation. I told them that I was fine, that I could look after myself.

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I stayed with my dad and at first got on with him better than I thought I would. Although he was still drinking, he said he wanted to stop. He said he missed me and wanted our family all back together. I tried to encourage him to get help for his drinking, and he started to tell me what it was like being in the army.

My dad had spent seven years in the army and had seen a lot of pain and suffering. He carried memories of faces and violence that he just couldn’t forget. He told me that the alcohol numbs the pain. He had left the army about a year before I was born, and it was hard for him to cope.

That was the first time I felt any compassion for him. I was angry that he was a victim of circumstance and wondered how different my childhood would have been if he hadn’t had to enlist.

I gave up on my artistic ambitions and tried to look after him as best as I could for the next couple of years. During that time, I had occasional contact with my mum and brothers. My dad often took his anger out on me, but I was bigger now and able to fight back. I also continued to take drugs and was also dealing.

One night, I had a massive argument with my dad; I don’t really remember what it was about. He became violent, and we were physically fighting with each other. I had had enough and left home, telling him that I wouldn’t be back. I was sick of trying to help him only to be punched in return.

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I was homeless on and off for the next seven years.  I slept at friends’ houses, in homeless hostels, and on the streets. I took drugs to numb the pain and keep out the cold. I was often taken in by charities who tried to help me but I was always on edge. I didn’t want to trust anyone and believed that I could sort out my own problems.

Eventually, I did accept help and was put into temporary accommodation. I reconnected with my mum and brothers. My brothers had all learned a trade and were doing well for themselves. I felt like they had all done better than I had. Seeing my brothers was the motivation I needed to get clean. I wanted to improve my life so that I could have a relationship with them again.

When I decided to get back on my feet, I knew that I would go back to art. How I would do that was the only thing in question. I didn’t think any art gallery would display my art, so I opened my own gallery on the streets. I sit on the street corner and paint every day. I paint popular characters such as Pokémon and sell them to passers-by. I usually have three or four canvases on display at any one time. I also have a cup, in case anyone has any spare change. I am still homeless but need to pay rent in temporary accommodation and do so by begging and selling art. My art is popular with kids, and my sales usually increase in the summer holidays.

Me, painting in the street.
Me, painting in the street.
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In a funny kind of way, I have followed my dreams. I always wanted to have my art in an art gallery, and you could say that I have achieved that. I have learned to take each day as it comes, life on the street is tough, but I am so grateful for the help I have had over the years.

Painting has helped me a lot as it takes my mind off negative things in my life. I am not ashamed of my circumstances, although it seems to other people like I don’t have much, or like I’m not doing very well at life. But I know that I have overcome a lot to get to where I am today, and I know that I will keep going. After all, I still have dreams, and now, I also have hope.


This is the story of Paul Newman

Paul grew up in Sighthill, Glasgow, in the ’80s and ’90s. He loved drawing and football and dreamed of being a comic artist when he grew up. He lived with a violent father who used to beat him and his brothers as well as his mum. This led to a lot of problems in the family and Paul dealt with it by taking drugs as a teenager. He later became addicted to heroin and experienced homelessness after helping his mum escape from an abusive marriage.

Paul has now started his own art gallery; he sits on the street and paints, selling his canvases to passers-by. Although he doesn’t have much, he knows that he has overcome many obstacles in his life and continues to try and better himself by going through substance-abuse counseling. Paul has recently submitted some of his cartoons to various newspapers and is waiting to hear back. He is also on a waiting list to get a full-time council flat and hopes to be able to go to art classes again in the future.

One of Paul’s paintings.
One of Paul’s paintings.


This story first touched our hearts on June 13th, 2019.

| Writer: Abi Latham | Editor: Colleen Walker |

To protect the privacy of the storyteller and those involved in this retelling, some of the names may have been changed. (1)
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