Art takes many forms in Greensboro and can make anyone feel a certain type of way. One medium that is unique to this area reaches out and touches you… literally. Unbeknownst to many, the Triad is home to Living Arts America, which is the biggest bodypainting competition in North America. According to the press release, it is also the most prestigious bodypainting competition in the Western Hemisphere and is second only to the World Bodypainting Association. As a part of the Arts Greensboro’s 17 Days of Arts and Culture Festival, the competition is returning to the Greensboro Coliseum this weekend and will feature artists from over 20 countries, celebrities and local talent. Each artist will have to work with the selected theme for this year, which is “Heal the Body, Heal the World.”
The festivities kick off on Oct. 13 at 7 p.m. with, according to the press release, the world’s only Bodypainting Film Festival at The Crown of The Carolina Theatre. The screening will be films from all across the globe and are presented by the artists who made it. There will also be a special performance by local band Crystal Bright. Following the festival will be the world premiere of “Opera in Bodypainting” with musical selections by the Elm Street Opera Group happening at Chakras Spa at 9 p.m. On Saturday, the competition begins at 2:30 p.m. and until 5: 30 p.m., ticketholders can watch the professional and emerging artists in action as they race against time to create their unique and temporary masterpieces on the bodies of various models. Then, each artist will give a presentation before an international panel of celebrity judges (some of which are from the reality show Skin Warz and one of the judges is the founder of the World Bodypainting Competition).
GreeAt 8 p.m., (doors open at 7 p.m.) ticketholders can return for the models and their fashion-show style catwalk, exciting live entertainment and the crowning of the 2017 bodypainting champions.
The people who organized this competition are a local married couple who have dedicated their lives to the art form and even met through bodypainting. Scott Fray and Madelyn Greco are the founders of both Living Brush Bodypainting and the Living Art America organizers.
Greco and Fray are the only bodypainting artists in history to win all five World Championship titles, plus first-place awards in Asia and North America. They have even made a Guinness World Record for bodypainting, according to the press release. In April, Greco and Fray presented the first TEDx talk in the Van Dyke Auditorium and received the Betty Cone Medal of Arts Award, which is the most prestigious award given to an artist by the city of Greensboro for their work with Living Art America. Together with other co-founders Randi Layne and Ken Goldwasser, they support the Chelko Foundation’s mission of empowerment through art education and partnership.
“Our event is second to the world bodypainting festival and it is the biggest in the USA and in fact, both North and South America,” Fray said. “We hope that people value and celebrate and acknowledge and enjoy this unique art form and the special fact that this is indeed here in this community and do their best to support it, so that we can stay here.”
Fray describes bodypainting and the human body medium as “part of the long human story.” He said archeologist have uncovered evidence from Tanzania dating back 400,000 years that suggest humans created pigments out of minerals to produce colors for bodypainting.
“Human beings have been doing this for a half a million years,” Fray said. “And every culture, from every time, from every part of the globe have used this art form and it is a part of what human beings are.Bodypainting is something that humans do. We need to carry on something that has happened for half a million years.”
Bodypainting is special to Fray because it is the only art form that can look back and behold a spectator as they behold it.
“It can interact with you soul-to-soul, it can engage with you on an emotional level,” Fray said. “Think of a flat two-dimensional canvas, the level of emotional exchange or interaction is very limited. As I said in the TEDx talk, Picasso can’t take itself off the wall and dance with you. It can’t engage, relate or see eye-to-eye with you. ‘The Kiss’ cannot kiss you back.”
Fray describes bodypainting as an incarnational art form and that it is an amplifying and transforming state of being a human.
“It is art of the body itself,” he said. “You are literally living art, you become art. It is the only way I can think of for a human being to not just view art or experience art, but to become art. It is an incarnational art form.”
Fray said the bodypainting competition is unlike your typical, wine-and-cheese art exhibition. He said it will feel like a cross between Cirque Du Soleil, a fashion show and an Olympic sporting event.
Some talented artists will walk away with the highest prize, which is the title of the best in North America. In total, Fray said there is about $12,000 in prizes and the competition is split up into two levels: professional and emerging artist. While many people come from international destinations, many come from the Triad, Fray said.
Contrary to what most people may think about bodypainting, he said, the Living Art America is a fine art event. In other words, bodypainting isn’t intended to make models sexy or sexualized, but rather, it is intended to transform them into living works of art.
“You look up body painting on the internet and you will see a lot of images that are not fine art,” he said. “But that is not what we are doing. We exist to showcase that very top level of technical, creative, excellence and technique and skill.”
Greco said when she and Fray first met, she was a model that he painted. However, she is now a bodypainting artist, which is what she prefers to be.
“I had a background as an artist my whole life and I graduated the art institute of Pittsburgh,” she said. “I was actually doing performance art, like burlesque, when I met Scott.”
After her brief time as a bodypainting model, she decided to take up the brush and said she was thrown into the world of bodypainting quite quickly.
Greco said that the bodypainting world is pretty female dominated, in terms of artists. From the standpoint of an artist, Greco said she is empowered on a very human level by bodypainting.
“You are giving someone a gift,” she said. “You are spending a close and intimate time with them and a prolonged time. You get to know people, but it is definitely an exchange on many different levels. You are giving someone the chance to find a new expression of themselves. When they look in the mirror and experience a transformation that is totally new to them, I find that very personally empowering and moving.”
Brandy Valentine, a bodypaint and pin-up model said getting painted is empowering for her as well. In the six or so hours it takes to be painted, Valentine said she loves bonding with the artist and re-emerging a new person. And yes, to answer everyone’s question, Valentine said getting painted tickles.
“The duration is like meditation for me anyways,” Valentine said “I basically feel like a different person. Most of all, I feel really comfortable being painted.”
Valentine was also a burlesque performer before she got into bodypainting, which is how she and Greco met. Valentine said Greco and herself claim to be the very first people to mix burlesque and bodypainting for a live performance. The performance was a semi-choreographed combination of slow dance movements with Fray moving around and painting them while they performed.
“With pin-up, you tend to have to smile a lot and I am known in pin-up for smiling or in my bachelor pad where it is like semi-sexual,” Valentine said. “Where with bodypaint, it is not sexual, it is just sensual, I would say. Because you have art on you and you are covered in it– it is almost like mask.”
Greco said for studio work, the models they work with are typically painted nude, due to conserving paint (as fabric tends to soak up most of the expensive paint). Greco said they are also anti-shame and will paint on anybody no matter what shape or size.
“The message we try to convey using the nude human form is that there is nothing wrong with that,” she said. “We are transforming a body into a work of art.”
Along with this message of body positivity, Living Brush studios also have used their art form to make political statements as well. One issue in particular that they are focusing on is female genital mutilation and they hope to bring social awareness to the issue through their art. They have also touched on local politics as well with their painting of former Governor Pat McCrory on the back of a trans woman to protest the controversial House Bill 2.
“That was our protest against Pat,” Greco said. “The title of that piece is ‘Empathy Comes When You Can See Yourself In Someone Else’s Skin.’”
Even though Fray and Greco already feel a lot of love from the creative community of Greensboro and Arts Greensboro, they want the whole Triad to know how special their competition will be.
“Greensboro has a jewel and I want them to recognize that something very special is happening only here, in the entire United States,” Fray said. “Please value and support it.”
Tickets can be purchased at the Greensboro Coliseum box office via Ticketmaster. As a special gift to the readers of YES Weekly, Fray said to use the promotional code LIVING to receive 20 percent off a regular priced, general admission ticket.
Katie Murawski is the editor of YES! Weekly. She is from Mooresville, North Carolina and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in film studies from Appalachian State University in 2017.