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Canvas on canvas: Artists take on WWE icons
Think art galleries are full of nothing but uptight nerds critiquing paintings of ballerinas? Well, there’s a group of young artists who will make you think again. Drawing inspiration from childhood heroes like “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Ultimate Warrior, these painters are putting the WWE icons on a whole new type of canvas.
If you’re anything like us wrestling-obsessed nerds in the WWE Classics office, the first thing you think of when you hear the word “art” is Art Donovan, the NFL great who sat in at the commentary table during the 1994 King of the Ring Tournament with hilarious results. (“How much does that guy weigh?”) But it turns out there’s more to art than just a befuddled Baltimore Colt or a few homely French chicks hanging on the wall in some stuffy museum.
As a generation of kids raised on a steady diet of Jolt Cola, “The Karate Kid” and “Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling” blossom into functioning members of society, a new movement in pop art is emerging. Drawing inspiration from the Saturday morning cartoons and action movies they grew up watching, a group of artists is putting ’80s icons like “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Jake “The Snake” Roberts on a whole new type of canvas — and art collectors and gallery owners are suddenly hanging paintings of King Kong Bundy on their walls. ( PHOTOS)
WWE hasn’t rubbed elbows with the art world since Andy Warhol accidentally wandered into Hulk Hogan’s locker room at The War to Settle the Score. ( WATCH) That’s why WWE Classics spoke with four young artists who are turning Koko B. Ware and The Gobbledy Gooker into modern masterpieces. Get ready — here comes the paint!
In summer 2011, Kansas City–based artist Rob Schamberger had a bright idea. He was going to attempt to paint portraits of every World Champion in wrestling history.
“I thought that was narrowing it down,” Schamberger told WWE Classics with a laugh. “But with the different promotions I’m covering, it’ll be about 230 portraits when it’s all done.”
A mammoth undertaking sure, but the light bulb of inspiration that flicked on above the painter’s head a year and a half ago has ended up changing his life. Inspired by CM Punk’s now infamous “pipe bomb” speech on the June 27, 2011, edition of Raw, the man who once specialized in paintings of pin-up girls put The Second City Savior on a canvas. Soon after, he announced his intentions to immortalize the ring’s greatest and received an overwhelming amount of support from wrestling fans and art collectors alike.
“I was working in a cubical for a corporation and feeling really frustrated at the time,” Schamberger said. “I was aiming to make the leap into doing art full-time with this project, which has happened. In the last six months, between gifts and commissions, I’ve done about 250 paintings.”
Now able to make his living as an artist, Schamberger has painted David Arquette for David Arquette, an image of Dino Bravo lifting weights for CM Punk’s home gym and a portrait of SmackDown commentator JBL that he was personally able to present to the former WWE Champion.
“Not only do I think it was my artistic best, but also on a sentimental level that piece really meant a lot to me,” the artist said. “Being able to spend the day with JBL at the [Dan Gable Wrestling Museum in Waterloo, Iowa] and find out what a great guy he was in person, how cool is that?”
Apart from “The Wrestling God,” Schamberger has completed portraits of a wide array of men who held World Titles, ranging from major WWE Superstars like Brock Lesnar and Dolph Ziggler to obscurities like Ali Baba and The Mighty Igor. Still, his mission continues.
“I’ve still got a couple hundred of these champion paintings to do,” Schamberger said. “Right now that’s my focus, but I’m sure I’ll do Mantaur sooner or later.”
To see more of Rob Schamberger's artwork, visit robschamberger.com
Follow Rob on Twitter @robschamberger
It’s been a few decades since Marz jr. was old enough to eat Cookie Crisp while watching “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” and not look like a total slacker. Still, the Los Angeles–based artist draws upon those easy days of eating junk food and rewinding grainy recordings of “Saturday Night’s Main Event” on his parents’ VCR every time he picks up a paintbrush.
“A lot of it goes back to my childhood,” Marz jr. said of his colorful portraits. “It’s along the lines of watching “Ghostbusters” or “Goonies” as a kid. The possibility of going on an adventure on your bike was so awesome. I try to bring that feeling back to the people that look at my art.”
For Marz jr., that mission has translated to paintings of Bebop from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Star Wars” storm troopers and a battle royal’s worth of WWE Superstars, including Koko B. Ware, King Kong Bundy and Hulk Hogan.
“I was a huge fan when I was a kid,” Marz jr. admitted. “I remember my dad would take me to The Meadowlands every now and then to see some matches. And I remember seeing Hulk Hogan for the first time. That was the loudest I’ve ever heard a crowd.”
Like a lot of kids, Marz jr. grew up sketching the wrestlers, superheroes and baseball players he saw on TV. After graduating art school, he pursued a career in comics, but gave up on his own art. When he finally went back to drawing, his instincts led him to revisit the things he scribbled in the margins of notebooks as a kid.
“There was a store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, that had old trading cards from WrestleMania III, so I bought two or three packs,” the artist remembered. “There was an image of Hulk ripping his shirt off. I drew that first and it started from there.”
Since then, Marz jr. has created portraits of Ultimate Warrior, “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Demolition Ax in his distinctively adolescent style. All the while finding an audience in kindred spirits who grew up in the 1980s, daydreaming of becoming WWE Superstars.
“When you come across the wrestling fans, they get totally excited and wave their friends over,” Marz jr. said. “Hopefully it brings a smile to their faces.”
To see more of Marz jr.'s artwork, visit marzjr.com
To order his work, visit etsy.com/shop/marzjr
If you think artists are an uptight, pretentious bunch, you haven’t come across Dax Norman. A Texas-based painter and animator, Dax has seen his unique shorts air on Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim” and presented at the renowned Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. But the folks around his native Austin probably know him best as the guy with the bowling pins.
“Last fall, I took 100 bowling pins — a lot of them painted like wrestlers — and I put them around town and then sat back and watched people encounter them,” Norman said. “The funny thing is a lot of them ended up inside of places. I’ll go into a restaurant and see a bowling pin sitting there.”
A WWE fan since attending the 1989 Royal Rumble at The Summit in Houston, Norman has incorporated his love of wrestling with his passion for art since watching King Haku battle Harley Race. What began with doodles of Ultimate Warrior and Demolition in his childhood sketchbooks turned into complex, hand-drawn animations and striking, avant-garde paintings as he matured into a serious artist. Norman’s work has been seen in more than 200 countries, but many of his viewers may have barely noticed the images of Jake “The Snake” Roberts or “Macho Man” Randy Savage he sneaks into frames and canvases.
“In art terms, that would be called personal iconography,” Norman explained. “That’s where the artist has things in their work that represents some kind of memory or part of their life. Maybe the viewer has no idea what that is, but they can relate something about it.”
Dax has also been literal about his love for 1980s WWE icons like The Honky Tonk Man and Andre the Giant through his stylized bowling pins.
“I like bowling and I like pro wrestling, so I put them together,” Norman said matter-of-factly. “I kept doing it because I thought they were funny-looking.”
In addition to pins mocked up to look like The Beatles and Mr. T, Norman has crafted The Undertaker, Mr. Perfect and many other WWE Superstars. The unique pieces have been given away as prizes at a festival for “The Big Lebowski” and sold in art galleries, but Dax is always more interested in craft over commerce.
“I just love creating artwork and animation,” he said. “And I have fun with it. That’s the main rule."
To see more of Dax Norman's artwork, visit daxnorman.com
Rob Osborne didn’t grow up obsessing over WWE like some kids. Sure, he caught the occasional episode of “All American Wrestling” while flipping through the channels, but it wasn’t until he was an adult that the artist realized the impact the Superstars he’d seen as a kid left on him.
“Back then when you turned the TV on, it seemed like wrestling was always on,” Osborne told WWE Classics. “I got sucked into the color and the drama and the story aspects of wrestling, but I was a casual fan.”
As an adult, Osborne found success in the comics industry and through his colorful art prints of geek culture icons like Spider-Man, George Lucas and Stan Lee. The WWE Superstars of his youth never found their way into the designer’s work, until the untimely death of “Macho Man” Randy Savage in May 2011 compelled him to honor the legendary grappler.
“When Macho died, it resonated with me way more than I expected,” Osborne admitted. “I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to draw Macho.’ I did it and it really struck a chord with a lot of fans.”
Creating a vibrant, Technicolor tribute to Mr. Madness, Osborne mixed traditional pen and ink with digital processing to craft an eye-popping interpretation of one of the ring’s most colorful characters. The reaction to the piece was huge, so he set about making more portraits of iconic 1980s WWE Superstars.
“It’s only been very recently that I did two other ones — Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan,” he said. “I’m just doing guys that really captured my imagination and had an energy about them that interested me.”
Unlike some of the other artists we interviewed for this piece, Osborne doesn’t have a strong desire to continue creating WWE-inspired art. Still, he’s floored by the reaction his sports-entertainment prints have received.
“Those guys are beloved by a generation,” Osborne said. “Having something that honors those memories seemed to really resonate with people.”
To see more of Rob Osborne's artwork, visit robosborne.net
To order his work, visit etsy.com/shop/robosborne