Emotion as art, the body as canvas

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On Saturday afternoon, in an apartment above Terra Blue on South Elm Street, a world champion taught the tricks of her trade. I came for a quick photo, but ended up leaving with a walking, breathing work of art.

I knew it would be just a matter of time before I would be writing an arts story about my dear friend Madelyn Greco, who under the stage name Foxy Moxy brought a vivacious jolt of creative energy to the Triad when she showed up from Pittsburgh with her husband, Scott Fray.

They’re artists in the Warholian sense that almost everything they do is art. Greco is best known by her alter ego among aficionados of the burlesque circuit, and even when she’s not on stage she looks like she just stepped out of a painting.

With Fray, they are Living Brush, a body-painting duo that has won the world championships of the medium for the past three years, though they’ve got their feet planted firmly in the Triad when they’re not jet-setting.

If you’re writing about the arts in the Triad, sooner or later, you’re writing about Madelyn. Though as I’m sure has happened countless times before in her life, the big moment came a little early.

We found her, my wife and I, holding court in the apartment’s living space, her paints and brushes arrayed on two tables, mirrors propped on easels. The group of about eight — among them a student from Raleigh, a photographer, an engineer, a “head fairy,” a 13-year-old girl and her father, artists one and all — came to learn body-painting techniques from the best in the world.

While a couple cats worked the room, Greco pulled my wife from the crowd, sat her on a stool and went to work.

“Before you start, do you have an idea of what you’re gonna do?” the photographer asked.

“I don’t,” Greco said, not for jobs like this. But in competition, she says, all ideas are sketched out, debated and rehearsed on the models before being executed live, under a time constraint and in front of an audience.

“[The bodypainting] is paired with music, movement and art,” she said. “It’s a whole experience.”

First came white and streaks of green, gold and violet — a Mardi Gras spring palette. Then came defining streaks of darker color, emphasizing my wife’s bone structure and features.

Greco uses artist-grade paintbrushes for her work, though she says some body painters use make-up brushes. She’s looking for a certain shape to the brush, a softness to the bristles, always conscious that her canvas is a living, breathing person.

With a small, pointed brush she added detail lines, whorls, petal shapes and dots in pastel hues. My wife’s face did not get lost in a riot of color, but became more pronounced, dramatic. Greco said she likes to try and reflect her subject’s soul.

She told a story about Scott and a subject he was painting at Burning Man in Nevada’s Back Rock Desert a few years ago.

The woman was a dominatrix by trade, and Fray figured he’d be tapping into that aspect of her lifestyle for the work. But as he spoke with his subject and worked on her body, the piece grew into a peaceful portrait of two cranes, their long necks intertwined.

“It was an entirely different aspect of her personality,” Greco said.

She put the finishing touches on my wife’s face and brought a mirror over for a big reveal.

My wife studied her reflection and pursed her lips, exaggerated in a bright cherry red. Her eyes, the only part of her visage not daubed in body paint, seemed alive.

As the rest of the class went to work, she and I gathered our things and made for the stairs. All painted up, we had to figure out somewhere to go.

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