1001 things to do with red paint: a portrait of the artist as a very young man

The house was full to bursting with experimental children.

That is all very well if those children are over five. Children over five know about cause and effect, more or less. But there was one conspicuous absence in the main body of activity: my diminutive nephew, Big Al.

Big Al has just turned five. His experiments generally show a broader vision and higher level of questioning than everyone else’s. Questions like: what would happen if I posted this ten pound note into this pint glass of apple juice? Or, Do cats like to dance?

When you haven’t heard Al in a while, you need to follow it up. Because if it’s quiet, he’s absorbed in something heinous.

There were four noisy children. But the silence from the youngest was deafening.

My niece appeared, breathless with News. “Auntie Kate, come quickly!” she urged. “Alastair has the red paint and….”

She was continuing, but the words had imprinted themselves rather like bright sunlight sears an image on the retina. Big Al. Red paint. Oh, Thor’s drawers.

And I sprinted past her, and flew up the stairs Mary-Poppins-Style, because not even the words of a beautiful little princess would be able to describe what Al could do with a tube of red paint and five minutes.

I arrived at the scene of the crime: my beloved office, a large airy room with huge windows looking out onto the road outside.

It was carnage.

For his installation, Al had employed four main media: red paint, water, cold tea and various manifestations of new technology.

What I beheld, though catastrophic, was highly creative. The desk had a large turdesque red-paint stool near its edge, surrounded by a pool of water. On closer examination, the water was mixed with tea in a nice blue mug from Whittards, the tea-accessory shop. It gave the whole thing a very English feel.

In the centre of the pool lay an iPhone, and to its left, precariously close, sat the family iPad.

The Artist was suitably daubed. His face was red, his previously blue jeans were red,Β his hands were red.

And he had been hand painting. There were perfect bright red hand imprints all over the carpet to finish the installation perfectly.

I was calm until I saw the iPhone, and then I bellowed, in my Lady Bracknell voice: “Alastair!!!!”

Some people have no respect for great art.

Swiftly prioritising, I dived for the iPhone, dried it and put it in the airing cupboard. It appeared to be behaving. The iPad followed suit.

“I am very cross!” I informed The Artist severely. For the first time, he slipped out of his artistic reverie, and looked around him, and consequences began to dawn. Oh, nuts, I could see him thinking.

“Look at everything, Al. What shall we do to put it right?”

Al is never short of ideas. “I will clear it up,” he volunteered.

I handed him a cloth. “Right. Let’s start with the red paint.”

He took the cloth and landed in it the centre of the paint-glop. With commendable enthusiasm he moved the cloth in circular motions, quite the Jackson Pollock. A new work of art was appearing before our eyes.

We washed, we rinsed, and everything, everywhere, seemed red.

“Did you do naughty things when you were a little girl?” Al enquired affably. I did not answer: I was contemplating Al’s trousers. The washing machine seemed the only recourse.

We trooped downstairs. I wandered idly if Picasso’s mother ever had to do the same thing. We posted the trousers in for a short wash, washed face and hands, poured a glass of squash and got out a biscuit.

Installation disassembled.

Late that night, I tucked the children up. Friday night means crisps and a film and the sofa bed in my study. And just as I was about to leave. I glanced up at the piano.

Where there was a green plastic wine glass filled with deep purple squash, bottomed out with scarlet paint.

The Artist is still a very young man indeed.










57 thoughts on “1001 things to do with red paint: a portrait of the artist as a very young man

  1. At times could do with a tad less about Big Al overall, (even though his experiment was monumental) and more re Maddie and Felix, the cat and the dog etc. In so saying, I do enjoy the general tone and interest of the writing, whatever happens in the Shrewsday home.

      1. Good grief- less Big Al? Say it ain’t so, Aunty Kate!
        Would Maddie and Felix let you write more about them? Girls1 & 2 are delighted to have posts about themselves, as long as nobody ever refers to them later, because that’s just embarrassing apparently.

  2. Did you do naughty things when you were a little girl, Aunty Kate? I’m sorry I had to laugh – not at the terrible mess, or the total regard for consequences, but what a wonderful time Big Al must have had – albeit until a Princess saw him!

    I don’t really remember it (of course!) and we didn’t have red paint, but Ma was fond of red lipstick, and so apparently was I – though I’m thinking perhaps I enjoyed climbing up to her lipstick drawer to retrieve it as much as I enjoyed drawing cats, I think they said it was, on her wall … πŸ™‚

    1. I’m not sure calm and measured would be Maddie and Felix’s description, Roger!! Red steam was coming out of my ears. However there is little point in stomping around: the best lesson Al could have would be to clear up himself. Job Done.

  3. Oh…My…Goodness…. Amidst it all Big Al has the thought to divert attention from his deeds by asking his Auntie if she ever did anything naughty as a girl….something to ponder, indeed.

    Happy to see that your priorities are in order….save the iThingies first.

  4. It is amazing what can happen when a young child is given full range to let his imagination flow. You have to admit he was having a great time.
    I wonder what he will think in years to come when he has the opportunity to read these stories of his childhood.

  5. β€œAuntie Kate, come quickly!” she urged. β€œAlastair has the red paint and….”

    She was continuing, but the words had imprinted themselves rather like bright sunlight sears an image on the retina. Big Al. Red paint. Oh, Thor’s drawers.

    Thor’s drawers!
    Al draws . . . and paints, experiments, creates.

    A master of mayhem.
    Enabling his Auntie Kate to practice her Zen. πŸ˜‰

    An aside:
    What’s Squash? Grape juice? Kool Aid?

      1. thank you for the ‘other people’s vocabulary’ lesson, Kate! I was rather wondering about “squash” myself.
        And thank you for leaving a trail over here, Nancy! πŸ™‚

  6. Considering my need for order and neatness, I probably would have been catatonic upon such a discovery. Thank goodness your electronics were okay. Of course, if I think back to the messes I created as a young child. Well, best not to go there…

  7. LOL. At my house it was a red (it’s always red, isn’t it?) felt-tip marker (indelible ink, of course) applied with a 5-year-old’s artistic flair to an entire wall of yellow-and-white striped wallpaper. Or at least, to everything under the four-foot level. There was no choice but to re-do the entire room, something I’d planned to do … in a few years.

  8. I can just imagine what all the red paint looked like. I am glad that you did capture the glass full of paint. It is an interesting piece of art. I really liked your Joycian title for the post.

  9. Hmmm…I will be using “IThingie” as well! Now about the IBoy, Kate! Surely he is one of the Indigos! Please may I be around long enough to see what path, field, career Aunty Kate’s Alistair will choose.

    I only wish I’d had to balls to break loose and express myself with the bravado demonstrated by this keen, alive and turned on young man.

    Whereas some may look down a long proboscis to see in this energetic lad a challenge in discipline, we would be wise to see the wealth of his not even knowing what a box is!

  10. I’m glad to hear you got it all sorted out in the end. I always find your Big Al stories very entertaining, though I can appreciate you wouldn’t have felt very entertained when you discovered his art! I particularly liked it when he asked you if you’d ever done naughty things as a little girl. Now there’s one trying to turn the tables if ever I saw one! And haven’t we all done it? πŸ˜€

  11. Oh, Kate, this dear little boy has the energy and imagination that will take him far, if proving a challenge for his family.I can just imagine the news of the red paint and the sheer panic that you must have felt.

    Once, when I was quite ill, six year old Jennifer announced to me, in a bit of a tattle tale way, that her 3 1/2 year old sister Kate was coloring with a permanent green industrial marker of their daddy’s. I mustered all the strength a 104 degree temperature would allow and found her quite contentedly practicing lower case e’s – on her body. The were actually very good, on her tummy and arms and chubby cheeks. She still likes to write at age 32.

  12. Oh my! I did fear for those electronics as you described the scene! He is such a little energetic ball of curiosity! Now one day when he makes his mark on the world, with or without paint, we will all remember this story and think back with fondness on what a clever and challenging little guy he was! And may I say that if you handled the situation with even half as much restraint as you present here, you are golden! I’m quite sure I would have overreacted. RED PAINT! πŸ™‚

  13. ‘Naughty’ is an interesting word, isn’t it? I seem to remember a TV programme some years ago, where the children had never been exposed to the word ‘naughty’- and later when they heard it they asked for an explanation of the word, which they didn’t understand as a concept!

    I love your Al writings. I hope you can assemble them into a book for when he’s older. He sounds to me as though he’s a very bright kid who is at the stage of being a tad literal and quite experimental. Reminds me of the time Techie came home from school rather wet. The teacher, rather embarrassed, explained that they had been looking at materials to find out which were waterproof, and Techie had wanted to see if his pockets were waterproof. She looked as though she rather thought I’d be cross. In fact I laughed πŸ™‚

  14. I must admit that in me admiration for the artistic creativity would have been swamped completely by a burning desire to strangle him forthwith. I would not have been able to admonish as mildly as that.

    1. I will not say I was mild, Col πŸ˜€ But completely losing it does not seem to be effective with Al. By making him clear it all up he realised the consequences of what he had done, I think.

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