Making a scene

by Ogi Overman


Scott Fray and Madelyn Greco

A wise man once said that success is not measured by how far one rises but the obstacles one has to overcome to get there. The success that Scott Fray and Madelyn Greco have recently enjoyed must rank as a singularly astonishing achievement.Prior to July 8, Fray and Greco, known collectively as LivingBrush, were considered among the elite in the realm of bodypainting. Their first foray, in 2010, into that arcane yet highly competitive art form had produced a runner-up finish at the World Bodypainting Festival, in Portschach, Austria. The following year they won the North American Bodypainting Championship, held in Toronto, and topped that by winning the worlds in their second try.Their area of expertise, “brush and sponge,” is one of three that is recognized in the field and that awards world titles, the other two being airbrush and special effects. Rather than defend their title, this year the couple opted to compete in special effects, a much more difficult category in that it emphasizes prosthetics and costuming, although art and theme factor equally into judging. And because it is considered the marquee category, the one that concludes the four-day festival, it is also more competitive, drawing la crème de la creme.Once they had made the decision last winter to enter the special effects category, Fray predicted, “I think we will do quite well.” But they had no way of knowing until arriving in the picturesque village of Postschach just how much stiffer the competition was going to be. They were aware that they’d be going up against defending champion Birgit Mortel but were somewhat shocked to find no fewer than six more interdisciplinary world placement (Top 3) bodypainters among the 18 two-person teams who made the finals.The contest is divided into two separate competitions, preliminaries and finals, with two distinct presentations and a cumulative points system. They chose the theme “Metamorphosis” for the prelims, which was inspired by Greco’s intensely personal triumph over addiction and the new life she found in recovery. As awe-inspiring as their presentation was, they still found themselves in 4th place, 10 points behind the leaders.For the finals they chose a theme based on the Stravinsky masterpiece, “The Firebird Suite.” And they too must have created a masterpiece, for when the judges tabulated their scores, the duo had vaulted past three of the world’s finest to capture the title.“I knew our ‘Firebird’ was going to be strong,” commented Greco afterward, “and I knew Kim [Leeftink, their Netherlands model, whom they also worked with last year] was more resplendent and spectacular than anything we’ve ever created. After the prelims, these little points of grace kept opening up that seemed to be providing us a way to move up, but 10 points was so much to make up. I was thinking we might be able to place in the Top 3 but really had no idea how it was going to shake out until the announcer said ‘… and moving up all the way from 4th place…’ I jumped into Scott’s arms and started screaming. I don’t even remember anything after that.”But back to the obstacles: The bad omens began in March when they found out that the professor from the UNC School of the Arts they’d enlisted to teach them how to mold and shape prosthetics had taken a leave of absence. They were able to track him down, but once they had begun creating the various components, Greco was struck with a wicked kidney infection that took her out of action for 10 crucial days.“Were it not for the friends who pitched in with sewing and stitching and taking care of me, none of this would have happened,” said Greco. “Part of this trophy belongs to them.”Once their 10-hour flight landed in Vienna a scheduling mishap caused them to miss the train to Portschach, costing them not only money but a full day’s worth of prep work. And finally, the caliber of competition was vastly stronger than they’d anticipated.“This was nothing like last year,” said Greco. “We were pretty confident the whole way. But this year, until they announced our name, we had no idea.”By the time they returned to Reidsville, they had heard from a TV producer in LA, festival promoters in Vancouver and Korea, and reporters from national and international outlets. Lest one think that bodypainting is their sole creative endeavor, Frey has produced three elaborate stage musicals, including last year’s sold-out performance at the Carolina Theatre of Awake the White and Wint’ry Queen, with Greco playing the title role. Her alter ego, Foxy Moxy, is credited with establishing the Triad’s flourishing burlesque scene, and she is also a cabaret singer, and figure and portraiture model. By any measure, LivingBrush is now considered the premier bodypainting team in the world. No one has ever achieved back-to-back world titles in two different disciplines, and that puts them in a class by themselves.Still, it’s not so much that they won but how they won.