By Ogi Overman
The cover of this year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue skipped the suit in favor of strategically placed paint.
Tourists in Times Square tip for photos with women topless but for patriotic brushstrokes of red, white and blue. Now, the skin wars are coming to North Carolina when Greensboro moves from the minors of regional body painting competition to hosting Living Art America’s North American Bodypainting Championship.
Body painting is what the word implies — turning the human body into a living, breathing canvas, a walking, talking work of fine art. An accepted, mainstream art form throughout Europe and most of Asia and South America, it’s spread more slowly in the U.S., though attitudes seem to be changing.
Couple Scott Fray and Madelyn Greco are the movement’s global ambassadors with local roots. The Reidsville artists, whose business is Livingbrush Bodypainting, are five-time World Bodypainting Championship winners. With no more mountains to climb, they retired from competitive body painting to turn their attention to judging, conducting workshops and producing events. Fray and Greco hosted sold-out regional qualifier events in Greensboro for the last two years to such positive response they decided to move the national championship from Atlanta.
“Our goal all along has been to attempt to bring [body painting] into the realm of fine art,” says Fray. “We want to take it to the highest point of the fine-art spectrum — in a lot of ways we have to, because of where we are as a culture. We realize it’s not going to be for everybody, but for those who discover it and feel attracted, it will be very powerful and strong.”
When the five-day event kicks off this month as the culmination of Greensboro’s 17DAYS festival, Fray is expecting about 2,000 attendees to watch 50 to 60 elite painters from 20 countries and five continents, including a burgeoning community of painters in North Carolina. Cheryl Ann Lipstreu of Winston-Salem won last year’s competition in Atlanta. Durham’s Tiffany Beckler was a finalist on the popular reality TV show Skin Wars, which just completed its third season.
The main competition will be held Sept. 24 in the Greensboro Coliseum Special Events Center with ancillary events at Revolution Mill, Carolina Theatre and the Millennium Center in Winston-Salem. Fray estimates the total economic impact will be somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million. VIP passes for the entire weekend run about $180.
“This is the third most prestigious event in the world, behind only the worlds [held in Portshach, Austria] and the international championships held in Korea,” Fray says. “I’ve had people contact me from Colorado and Florida and Texas saying they want VIP tickets to all the events here. This is something that New York doesn’t have, or Los Angeles or Boston or Miami. But Greensboro does.”