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Lips First

Natalie Irish kisses her portraits into life.

Lips First

Facing a large black canvas in a sunny kitchen, Natalie Irish puckers her painted white lips and cocks her head to the side, leaning closer to her target. People say it's rude to kiss with your eyes open, but Irish's baby blues are wide and concentrated. Crosseyed, Irish plants a small white kiss on the canvas, forming the first smidge of Kurt Cobain's nose.

Her husband Dennis Bateman sits in the adjoining living room with his back turned, slouched over their laptop. He's checking their YouTube account. Two years ago, he posted a video of his red-lipped wife kissing an image of Marilyn Monroe onto a canvas. The video collected dust until this week, when suddenly everything changed. "You broke 100,000," Bateman calls to her excitedly.

"Did we really?" Irish screams, white lipstick smeared past the borders of her lips. She looks like a pale, blond, ecstatic ghost. "That's 100,000 in less than a week," she gushes, rushing over to Bateman. She extends her arm for a high five, revealing a serpent cross tattoo on her wrist that reads "Diabetic" with the date of her diagnosis. It's much more stylist than a medical bracelet. "Damn," she says, still in shock. "It's so crazy to say it out loud!"

Natalie Irish became an overnight celebrity when her canvas-kissing video went viral. Irish created this week's cover, a self-portrait, with her own smooches.
photo by Mandy Oaklander
Natalie Irish became an overnight celebrity when her canvas-kissing video went viral. Irish created this week's cover, a self-portrait, with her own smooches.
Irish's lip printing is filmed by friend and videographer Chris O'Malley.
photo by Mandy Oaklander
Irish's lip printing is filmed by friend and videographer Chris O'Malley.

The world wasn't introduced to Irish until a few days ago, when a web site called Oddity Central linked to her YouTube video. Irish, 28, became an overnight celebrity. Her name and art have been splashed across national media and blogs, from Good Morning America and Huffington Post to Time and Glamour. Comedian Joe Rogan tweeted her video, and RyanSeacrest.com wrote an article about her. "But he got the story all wrong," she laughs.

Ever since the publicity, Irish has been getting fan mail and print orders from all over the world. Artists from New York City assume she lives there too and ask to meet her for tea. Nobody guesses that Irish lives in Houston – actually in Manvel, a drive-through country town nearly 30 miles from downtown.

Fame isn't something Irish ever imagined for herself, even when she quit the corporate world to become a full-time artist. Even though she had to deal with Type 1 diabetes, a life-threatening disease if not constantly monitored, Irish aggressively pursued her own art, which she usually gave away or donated. But now, Irish is thrust lips-first into the worldwide spotlight. And all of a sudden, the world is willing to pay for a taste.
_____________________

Ever since she can remember, Irish has created art. Only once did she lose interest -- not just in art, but in everything. During her senior year of high school in 2000, Irish developed a severe case of what she imagined was senioritis. She was abnormally thirsty and would sometimes get up four times at night to go to the bathroom. Pounds sloughed off her already small frame, though she ate more than ever. Sometimes, Irish would come home from school so tired she'd fall asleep with her backpack on. She couldn't even bring herself to work during art class. "I would sit there for weeks and just poke at this clay and not do anything," she remembers. "My teacher was like, 'Natalie, what the hell is wrong with you?'"

Irish thought she was going insane, until a friend's mom told her that the symptoms matched those of diabetes. She went to the doctor a few days later, where she took a blood sugar test. A normal person's blood sugar is around 70-100. Irish's was 780. "That's where the meter stops," she says. Irish was immediately hospitalized and soon diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

Nora Saul is a certified diabetes educator and manager for nutrition services at Joslin Diabetes Center, a research affiliate of Harvard Medical School. Though she doesn't know Irish, she says that Irish's off-the-charts blood sugar signified a condition called ketoacidosis. Because the pancreases of Type 1 diabetics produce little or no insulin, the hormone that collects glucose, the body instead has to burn fat for fuel. "The acid level in the body increases, and it lowers the body's pH," she explains. "When that happens, that's deadly."

Irish was released from the hospital after a few days. With the help of insulin injections, she could finally concentrate on her art again. While getting ready to go to a music show one night, Irish had an art epiphany. She blotted her lipstick on a tissue and was captivated by the smudge on the crumpled paper. Irish ditched the show and kept kissing, trying to figure out what to do with these newfound marks. She then thought of a technique taught to her in high school, where portraits could be created entirely out of thumbprints. The same could be done with lips, she realized. "It's got to be Marilyn Monroe," she remembers thinking. "That's the perfect candidate for red lipstick." She grabbed her cheap red lipstick and got to work. A couple weeks and half a tube later, she had kissed her first icon onto canvas.

Everyone who saw Irish's lip print loved it, and although Irish thought it was interesting, she didn't know what to do with it next. "I was very unsure of it," she recalls. Not that she had much time to think about lip-painting. Irish was off to the University of North Texas for its renowned metalsmithing program, and canvas-kissing soon flew off her mind. Something she couldn't forget about so easily, however, was her diabetes. Irish found she was extremely sensitive to insulin, and the long-lasting injections were difficult to fine tune. She was up to seven injections a day.

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4 comments
shaun
shaun

this is such garbage...post the truth...she was married and cheating on her husband while he worked offshore...drinking and boozing with total disregard of her safety or the husband working his ass off for her and their future...

Mr. Ripley
Mr. Ripley

She's amazing! That's quite an ability.

Hopefully with fame she can use a real videographer who actually has talent to showcase her work who focuses on the artist and not a desperate attempt to get noticed too.

rgwalt
rgwalt

Natalie- Check out the wireless, tubeless insulin pump by Omnipod! You load the pod, put it on, and it lasts for 3 days. Plus the control module doubles as your glucose meter. My girlfriend lowered her A1C by a full point after about 6 months on the pod, and loves it in comparison to her old pump. Only down side is you cannot take the pod and reconnected it like a standard insulin pump.

On another note, I really enjoyed this piece, the story, and the artwork!

Gabriel Dieter
Gabriel Dieter

She sure is cool huh! I'm so happy for her to have the interest she deserves!

 
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