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.
Join the First Amendment Society, a membership that goes directly to funding TCB‘s newsroom.
We believe that reporting can save the world.
The TCB First Amendment Society recognizes the vital role of a free, unfettered press with a bundling of local experiences designed to build community, and unique engagements with our newsroom that will help you understand, and shape, local journalism’s critical role in uplifting the people in our cities.
All revenue goes directly into the newsroom as reporters’ salaries and freelance commissions.
Great article Brian! Jill came in a beauty and left as a masterpiece!
What did the kids think of Mom’s painted face?
It was a great experience! Madelyn is quite the artist! Watching the sheer enjoyment of the experience on the faces of the participants made the drive down from Raleigh worthwhile. If that was Madelyn ‘Foxy Moxy’ Greco’s first effort the sky is the limit. Madelyn has painted my face twice in the past, I was in different moods for each and what she created matched my mood perfectly. One day a warrior, the next a psychedelic mess, it was remarkable. A person should do this for a number of great reasons. First, it is fun to see what you look like because while the artist is working you are clueless, the reveal is way cool. Second, the paint is a very high grade and it feels great! Not once has it burned my eyes or irritated my mouth. Also, it all washes off with soap and water easily. Tired of your alter ego… five minutes later you reemerge. But hey, the lot of us walked down the street and ate lunch afterwards. More than a few heads turned. I’d do it again tomorrow… or today if I could sneak out of the office.
The kids tried hard not to be impressed with their mom.