Believe it or not, professional wrestlers are artists. They are also storytellers.
Every move they perform in the ring is a new stroke of the brush or a new chapter in a book.
Their athleticism, the pomp and circumstance, the pageantry poses as the colors with which they paint their portraits. They paint those portraits on canvases all around the world that are anywhere from 16 to 20 feet wide and long.
Some of those canvases are stained with blood. The vast majority of them are soaked in sweat. Virtually all of them are given a nice, shiny coat of emotion. The emotions add meaning to the art and can range from flair, anger, jealousy, excitement and happiness.
That’s the task of a professional wrestler on a nightly basis in almost any promotion — big or small — around the globe.
While all of that is going on, somewhere in Kansas City, Mo. a man by the name of Rob Schamberger is capturing all of this on a canvas much smaller than the one fans see on television.
By using a real paintbrush and real colors, Schamberger depicts the art of professional wrestling. When Schamberger puts brush to canvas, he has the ability to make professional wrestling to look bigger than a sport and bigger than entertainment.
When Schamberger is done with a portrait, he makes the art of professional wrestling look majestic. All of those emotions that wrestlers paint their canvas with, Schamberger is able to convey them on to his own, and the results are visually pleasing to say the least.
Schamberger’s prowess has gained him quite a bit of notoriety since he began painting wrestling portraits three years ago, when he began his Champions Collection.
Now, Schamberger has formed partnerships with numerous charities that have auctioned off his work for various causes. He has also formed a partnership with World Wrestling Entertainment, which auctions off his work as well and will have him live paint during WrestleMania Axxess.
Schamberger wasn’t a wrestling fan when first fell in love with drawing at the age of seven while growing up in suburban Kansas City, when his stepbrother bought him his first comic book. Schamberger proceeded to spend the entire weekend replicating the illustrations inside of it. It was then that he realized he had found his true passion.
Despite drawing being his passion, Schamberger did not attend an art school. Outside of a few helpful high school art teachers, everything he has learned and picked up was simply on his own. It was just natural talent.
Schamberger eventually self-published his first comic book at the age of 17 and began working for Image Comics by 21.
He didn’t fall in love with wrestling until he was 18 years of age when one night, he stumbled upon WCW Monday Nitro while flipping the channels. The first thing he saw Ric Flair cutting one of his great promos. From there, Schamberger said he was hooked.
The next Monday, was flipping through the channels again hoping to find Nitro, but found WWE Monday Night Raw instead. Not knowing the difference between the two promotions, Schamberger watched Raw and became hooked on that as well.
Schamberger kept his love of wrestling and his comic book career separate, but began to yearn for a change of pace in his life.
“Comic books are a lot of work and for some reason I didn’t quite have what it took to be the guy that would draw Batman or whatever,” he said during an interview with philly.com. “And I had a day job at the time that I didn’t like at all.”
When Schamberger turned 30, he gave himself an ultimatum.
“I need to do whatever I need to do to make this happen full time,” Schamberger told himself.
He then came up with the idea to draw portraits of every single world heavyweight wrestling champion from every major promotion in the United States dating all the way back to George Hackenschmidt — the first known world heavyweight champion in professional wrestling history back in 1905.
“When I was doing comic books, I was just another guy doing comic books,” Schamberger said. “I was always going to be compared to the very best comic book artists and I realized there wasn’t anyone doing serious art about wrestling and really making that their focus.”
After some strenuous research, estimated the Champions Collection would boast about 250 portraits. The portraits will consist of champions from WWE, WCW, the National Wrestling Alliance, Extreme Championship Wrestling, Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, Ring of Honor, the American Wrestling Association, United States Wrestling Association, World Class Wrestling Association and the World Wrestling Association.
With the lineage of some of these titles splintering and coming back together again, especially the NWA title, looking up all of the champions proved difficult for Schamberger.
Schamberger also needed the funding to complete such a task. With the help of Kickstarter, he was able to raise $20,000 in a month in order to get the Champions Collection off the ground.
The support from the wrestling community allowed him to hit the ground running and complete more than 100 portraits of the Champions Collection and more than 1,000 wrestling-related portraits all together.
“The fans have really identified with the kind of work that I’m doing, to the point that I’m able to do it full time,” Schamberger said.
The fans appreciate the art. The fans appreciate an artist like Schamberger giving the art of professional wrestling its just due through painting.
When fans gaze upon a moment Schamberger has depicted in a portrait, they feel all of those same emotions they felt when they witnessed the moment live as it happened. It makes for an instant connection between the viewer and the piece itself.
So what goes into drawing a former world champion?
First, Schamberger has to find the right photo to use as source material. Once he has found a photo that he believes would look good on a canvas, he seeks out the identifiable qualities of the wrestlers, including facial expressions, poses and colors.
For example, when drawing Bret Hart Schamberger will look to incorporate pink and black into the portrait as those were two of Hart’s primary colors in his ring gear.
“That’s something I always take into account when I start working on his piece,” Schamberger said. “Also, he’s more of a serious, distinguished competitor, so I try to find a good pose of him that shows that.”
“I spend as much time as I can learning about the subject and the time period that he was in and his character … to make the portrait not just look like the person but feel like them,” he added.
The lesser-known the wrestler, the more Schamberger takes it upon himself to make the piece more visually interesting.
“There’s more on me to make that piece visually interesting so that the person that sees it not only likes that piece but it drives them to find out more about who that guy was and why he was so important at that time,” he said.
“My job at the end of the day is for it to be a portrait and for it to look like that guy,” Schamberger said. “I try to make sure that any of those elements that I add in there don’t overpower the piece. Art is such a subjective thing that I’ll leave that up to the viewer on whether I accomplished that goal or not, but I like to think that I always show that the focus is the person that I’m painting.”
One piece that Schamberger enjoyed making visually pleasing is WWE Hall of Famer Edge from the Champions Collection.
Edge’s expressive face and easily identifiable features made for what Schamberger believes is the best piece in the entire collection so far.
“On a technical level, I really feel like I pushed myself to another level on it,” he said. “On a personal level, through that I became friendly with Edge. Edge saw the portrait; really liked it and then we met at a show last year and struck up a friendship. It’s pretty neat.”
“I’ve done several portraits of him and enjoyed all of them,” he added.
Despite being a bigger star during his time on top of the business, Schamberger said that depicting “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was the most challenging piece of the collection so far.
“He doesn’t have a lot of identifiable features,” Schamberger said. “The general person looking at him, especially when you see him in motion you just wouldn’t think that, but doing a still image of him is tough because he’s fair complected and has naturally blonde hair. What that means is facial hair or eye brows don’t really show up, which are the little things artists depend on to make something more easily look like that person.”
“Pictures of him are normally tougher, but I also enjoy that because it pushes me to be even better,” Schamberger said.
Although Schamberger has become friends with Edge because of the Champions Collection, he was not the first member of that collection to reach out to Schamberger about placing one of his pieces in his own home.
No, it wasn’t Hulk Hogan. No, it wasn’t Ric Flair. No, it wasn’t Harley Race or Shawn Michaels. It was former WCW World Champion David Arquette. Yes, that David Arquette.
For those who don’t know, WCW thought it was a great idea to make Arquette its World champion in 2000. Not as a joke, but as its real champion. Because of that, Arquette will forever be known as a former WCW Champion. Schamberger, abiding by the full list of champions throughout history, made a portrait of him as apart of the collection.
Schamberger then tweeted Arquette asking him which outfit would like to be depicted in. Arquette gave him his choice, contributed to the Kickstarter and has the portrait hanging up in his living room.
Making connections with former world champions isn’t Schamberger’s main motivation though. Schamberger enjoys the fact that he can afford to create portraits on a full-time basis and also enjoys contributing to charitable causes.
Schamberger’s paintings raised more than $10,000 last year for a number of different causes, including Make-A-Wish.
“It’s amazing to be in a position to do that,” he said. “Ten-thousand dollars is a meaningful amount of money to put towards people that are less fortunate for me.”
And that’s what professional wrestling is all about. It’s about taking people on an emotional ride for a couple of hours on a given night and providing an escape from all of the world’s troubles.
It’s about the art of athleticism. It’s about the art of storytelling. It’s about the art. And Schamberger captures the essence of the art every time he steps into his studio.
“I pushed myself so hard to get into this at first to get away from the day job that I just really didn’t enjoy, but I love coming into the studio everyday, sitting down and painting some wrestlers,” he said. It’s fun.”
[Video courtesy of Rob Schamberger's YouTube channel.]
For more of Rob Schamberger's art, visit his website HERE
Follow Rob on Twitter @robschamberger