Up close and personal: Natalie Irish's lipstick portraits are intimate art
From standing atop ladders and drizzling steady streams of color, Pollock-style, to cats who cover canvas with paw-printed paint, artists have varying degrees of detachment from the work they’re creating.
Natalie Irish, who currently resides in Houston, takes a much more intimate approach in her work: Irish creates portraits and paintings using only her lips. Fueled by an array of rainbow-hued lipsticks, her process seems unusual but results in incredibly precise, beautifully complex images.
“When I was in high school I learned about the technique of making portraits with thumbprints,” says Irish on the origin of her method. “In 2001, I was putting on makeup to go out one night and see a band. I blotted my lips on a bit of tissue and got the idea of using lips in the same way as the thumbprints, in the spirit of pointillism. Marilyn Monroe was, of course, the perfect candidate.”
I was putting on makeup to go out one night and see a band. I blotted my lips on a bit of tissue and got the idea of using lips in the same way as the thumbprints, in the spirit of pointillism.
Irish’s take on a classic Monroe snapshot appears as if projected through a muted, pink filter, all soft edges and circles but managing to translate the actress’ trademark attitude.
We wondered, isn’t working with such an unconventional medium difficult when it comes to preservation?
“I prime the canvas with multiple layers of gesso and sanding to give a fairly smooth finish,” explains Irish. “Melting hasn't been a problem, the thin layers of pigment hold there shape very well. I seal the final piece with a few layers of UV protective varnish.”
Using something so common to create such unusual, alluring imagery has always been central to Irish’s work.
“I love the general theme of taking an everyday item and using it in a way it was not intended. Mixing materials that have very different properties is always exciting,” she says. “I've used old t-shirts as yarn for crochet items. Also, felt ‘jewels’ set in copper jewelry.”
It takes a certain eye to uncover the potential in otherwise ordinary objects. Irish’s approach inherently inspires discussions on the connection between the painter and their medium and the relationship between artist and muse; it’s difficult to imagine a more direct way of interacting with a canvas.
When it comes to her personal tastes, Irish is equally broad-minded.“I find inspiration everywhere: music, books, conversations with my husband... We can spend hours on the computer researching and discovering artists.”
Some of her favorites? “Jermaine Rogers consistently blows my mind with his work and the rate at which he creates such amazing pieces. And if I was to have an art god? it would be Robert Williams. His new work, his old school chrome work, and ZAP... the son-of-a-gun uses single-hair brushes for christ sake!”
What can we expect next?
“I am working on integrating the kiss technique with other painting techniques,” she reveals. “I'm working on some new textile and crochet pieces using things like recycled t-shirts, wire, plastics, and even used ropes from some old cowboy friends.”
We’re looking forward to discovering more creative pairings and unexpected textures from this Texan artist. Take a look at video documenting her process over on YouTube, and below.