Go Irish!

Natalie Irish poses with her self-portrait at the Scottsdale Arts Festival

Not that Irish, silly. I’m talking art, not athletics — after chatting with artists Natalie Irish and her hubby Dennis Bateman at the Scottsdale Arts Festival that runs through Sunday at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, where I suspect that sailing a football past the gift shop and such might be frowned on.

You’ll spot Irish’s white tent on a lush green lawn to your right not long after you enter the festival. She’s on one side of the center’s giant red Robert Indiana “LOVE” sculpture, and another one of my favorite tents — for Scottsdale’s “100 + Journals Project” — is on the other. The latter has a nifty place for kids, teens and grown-ups to create with all sorts of papers, rubber stamps, drawing supplies and such.

Elvis meets thumbprint thanks to Texas artist Natalie Irish

Irish gave me a guided tour of sorts through her work, most made with lipstick kisses but others with thumbprints. “One day I was putting on lipstick to go out,” she told me, “and I got lipstick on my fingers.” A new art adventure, informed by the work of Chuck Close, was born. “We don’t have kids,” Irish told me. The work is their baby.

A work of feminist art by Natalie Irish, shown at the 2012 Scottsdale Arts Festival

One piece in particular feels especially timely. In the lower righthand corner there’s a plain grey building — inspired by a Planned Parenthood site in Houston. The “feminist piece” also features a woman Irish considers a logo of sorts. It’s all a remarkable blend of new frontiers and the familiar.

Natalie Irish sharing her work at the 2012 Scottsdale Arts Festival

Irish offered the following quip after I asked when she got started making art — “In utero.” Irish speaks of growing up about thirty minutes south of Houston, and having a mother who does watercolor. “We’re all country folk,” says Irish — who still recalls winning a prize at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo for a childhood painting of her aunt’s horse.

Tools of the trade for Natalie Irish

It’s hard for Irish to say just how many hours a day she devotes to her craft. Seems she’soften got art on the brain while doing everyday household type stuff, and the nature of her work necessitates working in “short spurts.” On the long table she’s got covered in various works, Irish has some odd tools of the trade. Vaseline. Baby oil. And a tub of mostly homemade lipstick. Best to keep her trademark tools tender.

Irish was especially excited to show me this new work

Irish studied art in community college and university settings, but seems to have found her bliss outside the classroom — except during summers spent teaching art to kids. The woman who kisses canvas for a living has another passion — throwing pottery. She’s done pottery for more than a decade but recalls that “for the first three months you make dog bowls.” Not a bad deal for the couple’s dog and four cats.

One of many Natalie Irish works at the Scottsdale Arts Festival

I asked Irish to share advice for parents on the subject of art. “Try everything,” she told me. “Have fun with it.” Bateman added that “half the battle is having parents who support it” — noting that “it’s all about parents getting them there and getting them supplies.” Good news for parents who feel they’ve got few art skills to share. Make time and space. Your child will run with it.

Look for Natalie Irish at the Scottsdale Arts Festival near the giant red LOVE sculpture by Robert Indiana

So what of art in our schools? “More of it,” quips Irish. Bateman shares that Bad Religion, one of the couple’s favorite bands, has given scholarships to students — and says they dream of one day doing the same. “Any revolution of any valor was inpired by the arts,” says Bateman. Perhaps the next one will begin with kiss.

— Lynn

Note: You can watch Irish working on a different piece each day of the Scottsdale Arts Festival — which continues 10am-6pm Sat (March 10) and 10am-5pm Sun (March 11). Click here for details about parking, tickets and such. Click here to learn more about Irish and her work.

Coming up: More festival fun — in words and pictures

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