Diabetes Forecast

People to Know 2017: Natalie Irish

By Suzanne Gardner ,

Natalie Irish
Photograph by Dennis Bateman

As an artist with diabetes myself, I was intrigued by the idea of talking to another artist with type 1. The real thrill came when I discovered what Natalie Irish does. On enormous canvases, she creates portraits of well-known icons, such as Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, and David Bowie, using nothing but lipstick and her pucker.

Natalie began her art career using a variety of mediums—charcoal, clay, and paint—but really gained a following when she swapped paint for lipstick and her hands for her lips. Inspired by artists such as Chuck Close, Natalie, 34, has worked hard to create a successful career as an artist while managing the daily ups and downs of living with diabetes for the past 16 years. Her paintings have been sold all over the world, and she was commissioned by Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum to create a lipstick portrait of Kate Middleton on her wedding day.

When we spoke, she explained that, as an artist, she continually aims to provide the community with inspiration as well as awareness. “Type 1 is a very misunderstood disease,” she says. “And we will never find a cure if people don’t realize how much we need funding for more research. Insulin is not a cure.”

As part of that advocacy effort, Natalie appeared as a guest on Conan, where she chatted about her type 1 and why she helps raise money for research through her art. Her goal was to let people know that diabetes doesn’t define them. “It doesn’t have to hold you back,” she says. “You can do anything, and it’s true: I made up my own job!”

After talking to Natalie, I am awed by her incredible creativity. But just as important, I am in awe of her as a person. She is using her art to start a dialogue about type 1 diabetes among those living with it, those who influence the lives of people with diabetes, and the community at large. I want to thank Natalie for being an inspiration to us all, and also for advocating, informing, and educating the public about type 1.

Photograph by Robert MacNeil

The Author: Suzanne Gardner is an impressionistic-style painter with type 1 diabetes who is legally blind due to diabetic retinopathy. She uses bold, contrasting colors, which are easier for her to see, and credits her vision loss for helping her to discover a passion for art. For more on Suzanne go to suzannegardner.com.



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