Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Art of Wrestling: KC artist Rob Schamberger wants to paint all 208 pro-wrestling champions

Rob Schamberger intends to paint ever pro wrestling champion...ever.

Posted By on Wed, Apr 25, 2012 at 10:44 AM

By Rob Schamberger's count, pro wrestling has crowned 208 world heavyweight champions. And by the time he finishes painting all 208 - and there will likely be more champions by the time he's done, he'll probably wish there were fewer.

"When Colt Cabana beat Adam Pearce, I was like, Oh, Jesus - 209," Schamberger says. "Then I saw that he'd held it before, so that was good."

The idea came, says the 32-year-old Kansas Citian, in a temporary "moment of insanity." His vision: Paint every world champion in pro-wrestling history, from Hulk Hogan to Georg Hackenschmidt to ... David Arquette? (The actor won World Championship Wrestling's world title in 2000.)

"When I announced the project, one of the first questions I got ... was, 'Are you actually going to do David Arquette?' And I'm like, 'I said I'm doing all of 'em.'"

In a Twitter message to Schamberger, Arquette committed to buying his painting.

"You are a sick artist man," the actor wrote. "I'm ordering a painting of myself as the Champ."

"He [Arquette] said that he's going to have that hanging up in his house," Schamberger says. "I've been talking with his assistant since then."

Arquette was in the main part of the first wrestling event Schamberger ever attended: Slamboree 2000, at Kemper Arena. Arquette lost the belt that night, becoming a bad guy by smashing a guitar over the head of Diamond Dallas Page in a cage match.

To pay for his project, Schamberger is hoping to raise $20,000 on Kickstarter. He says he'd like to use the money to get a studio space that would double as a gallery. He's almost a quarter of the way there: 62 backers had pledged $5,023, with 17 days to go, as of press time.

Each painting takes up to three days to complete because Schamberger works a day job (as social-media director for a few companies). So far, Schamberger has finished nine paintings: Ric Flair, Bruiser Brody, CM Punk, Brock Lesnar, Ultimate Warrior, Frank Gotch, Nigel McGuinness, Adam Pearce and Kansas City's own Harley Race.

His painting of Race has already brought back memories of Thursday nights at Memorial Hall - for someone else. Schamberger says a woman saw his project on Facebook and contacted him to ask about buying his painting of "Handsome" Harley.

"She started crying because it put her back to going to the matches at Memorial Hall and brought back all of those memories to her," he says.

The 2-foot-by-2-foot paintings sell for $400 each; the 2-foot-by-4-foot portraits go for $600-$1,000.

"I would like to sell them to people who are as passionate about wrestling, and would probably display them in their home," he says. "I'm selling more of these than any other painting that I've ever done."

Schamberger hasn't forgotten where he was the day he fell in love with wrestling. He was 18 and doing laundry at his parents' house. His stepfather was flipping channels and stopped on "Nature Boy" Ric Flair giving an interview.

"I was just transfixed by how sincere he came across," Schamberger says. "If there's anyone's promo that's going to suck you into watching this for the rest of your life, it's a Ric Flair one. I was just totally hooked after that."

The paintings have grabbed the wrestling world's attention. World Wrestling Entertainment announcer Jim Ross retweeted a link to Schamberger's Kickstarter page. Ring of Honor, a major independent wrestling organization, retweeted Schamberger's link to a painting of former ROH champion Nigel McGuinness.

Schamberger calls himself a self-taught artist. He learned his craft while in high school in Lee's Summit. His work has been shown in group and solo exhibitions, including the 2010 Gallery and a public-art display at the University of Kansas. He says he always wanted to draw comic books - a dream he achieved in 2001 when Image Comics put out The Believer, a comic that he wrote and Thom Thurman drew, a neo-noir about a secret society in Kansas City. The Promotion, a comic-book series that he wrote and drew, was based on pro wrestling in Kansas City in the '70s, and he has carried the idea over to his fine art.

"Most art done for wrestling is not really gallery-worthy stuff," Schamberger says. "A lot of 'serious artists' would consider this subject matter to be beneath them. Luckily, I have no standards. I think it's cool. I think these guys do so much to entertain total strangers that I kind of like the idea of memorializing them with the paintings."

Schamberger says his wife, Katy Ryan Schamberger, is supporting the project. She, too, has become a fan.

"When we first started dating, I told her straight up: I'm a wrestling fan. I don't hide it," he says. "She's like, 'I'm a boy-band fan.' When we started living together, we only had one TV, so she couldn't hide from it. When John Cena came out, she was into it right away. When the Undertaker came out, it hit her that she loved watching wrestling as a kid with her dad, too. So she loved watching it."

He says they traveled to Orlando for WrestleMania XXIV in 2008 to see Ric Flair's "retirement match." (In wrestling, retirement never lasts.)

"During the match with Flair and [Shawn] Michaels, someone started yelling something negative about Flair, and Katy, my wife, just about flew out of her chair," Schamberger says. "My friend and I had to hold her back. My friend leaned over to me and goes, 'She knows this is fake, right?' She's really passionate about it."

Schamberger doesn't want to stop with paintings. He wants to do something much bigger. "I'm hoping soon to do a Harley Race mural here," he says. "I think everyone would think it's totally awesome, right?"

Schamberger is scheduled to show off the project at the next Metro Pro Wrestling show at the Turner Rec Center (831 South 55th Street, Kansas City, Kansas) Saturday, May 5. He'll also be selling prints of local wrestlers Jeremy Wyatt and Michael Strider, as well as former NWA champion Adam Pearce, for $25.

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