April 25, 2012
World Art Project aims for championship statusKansas City artist turns attention to pro wrestling's elite
By MATTHEW BYER - SLAM! Wrestling
Kansas City artist Rob Schamberger has been a wrestling fan all his life, but recently he decided to embark on perhaps his most ambitious art project yet: creating paintings of every professional wrestling heavyweight champion of the world, including promotions such as the NWA, AWA, ECW, WCW, WCWA/USWA, TNA, ROH, and WWWF/WWF/WWE.
A fan since 1998, Schamberger was first exposed to professional wrestling at his mom and step-father's house when he was flipping through channels and landed on WCW. One Ric Flair promo later and he was instantly a fan. He would later attend the 2000 WCW Slamboree pay-per-view at the Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Missouri, which was highlighted by a Triple-Tier Cage match for the WCW Title between Jeff Jarrett, David Arquette, and Diamond Dallas Page. He can be seen on camera talking to his friend.
His first major collection was a series of illustrations of jazz musicians. Schamberger later followed that up with large recreations of vintage album covers, which resulted in his first solo art show. "I've been very fortunate to have a number of solo shows as well as group shows. My work has been hung somewhere every month for almost four years straight now. I was a featured artist for the University of Kansas' public art initiative, which did great."
In terms of art influences Schamberger cited Pablo Picasso first and foremost as the artist that was most influential on him. He found that it wasn't just the style that Picasso employed, but also the fact that Picasso experimented with his art throughout the course of his life. "He's one of the greatest gifts humanity has ever received. I've also been influenced a lot by contemporary artists like James Jean, Tomer and Asaf Hanuka, and David Choe. Lately I've been drawing a lot from the global street art scene, like C215, Stinkfish, Vhils, Triangulo Dorado, ROA, and lots more."
The genesis for the Heavyweight Champions of the World Art Project came about because Schamberger found he was getting lethargic creating paintings of pin-up girls. So he began to look for a new project and realized that he had done so much research for his wrestling comic book that there might be the germ of an idea there. He decided to focus on a certain segment of wrestling's history, the heavyweight champions of the world. "I felt that there really hadn't been any 'serious' artists who have really focused in on this subject matter."
When designing any particular piece of art Schamberger described his approach as always trying to work in what is needed to generate the ideal result. "For the longest time I primarily worked with ink and watercolors, but my more formal stuff has primarily been acrylics. Lately I've been having a lot of fun integrating street art techniques and tools like stencilled spray paint and paint markers into my pieces, giving them a fairly unique appearance."
One of the more time consuming aspects of creating art is searching for reference material. Thankfully, Schamberger has found that Google Image Search has been a big help. "There's more and more information coming out all of the time. I also have a lot of books and tapes that I work from. I'm also in touch with some of the older wrestlers and promoters, and I'm sure I'll be utilizing those resources a lot during this project! I'm currently doing a painting of Fritz Von Erich and was amazed at the dearth of quality photos of him available, especially where he's applying the Iron Claw! Luckily, I'm also fairly adept at using Photoshop and was able to restore some photos and blow them up as the ones I found were very small. Sometimes I do spend more time tracking down reference material than actually making the art!"
The heavyweight champions that Schamberger has really enjoyed painting include CM Punk, Bruiser Brody and Harley Race. "The first few I did were ones that I have a very personal connection to. CM Punk is my favorite current wrestler, Brody may be my favorite wrestler ever, and Harley Race has such a deep history with Kansas City. I also had the pleasure of drawing a picture used on Missouri Wrestling Revival's Lifetime Achievement award for Harley, which has led to some cool upcoming announcements about my art and Harley Race that I can't say more about yet."
Living in Kansas City, Schamberger has found has really driven the art project forward. "The NWA started in Kansas City, Ric Flair won his first world title here, Jesse Ventura got his start here, and Bob Geigel ran the NWA from Kansas City. There's such strong memories for wrestling's hey-day here, too. Harley and Bob Brown tried to recruit my father-in-law to be a wrestler while he was a cashier at a grocery store. My mother-in-law was Bob Geigel's daughter's college roommate. It's all of those genuine connections that I love."
Schamberger's art project has even attracted attention from such big names as Jim Ross who retweeted about the project on his Twitter page and David Arquette who said he intends to order a painting of himself as WCW Champion.
If you're interested in further information on Rob Schamberger's Heavyweight Champions of the World Art Project it can be found at: kickstarter.com/projects/robschamberger/heavyweight-champions-of-the-world.
Matthew Byer is a Business Analyst who lives and resides in Victoria, BC. He is also an artist and photographer whose portfolio can be seen at: saatchionline.com/profiles/portfolio/id/335163.