Long after pro wrestling's greats have stopped competing, their images will hang on walls and in galleries with new eyes drawn to them thanks to Rob Schamberger.
The Kansas City, Mo. artist's reputation among both wrestlers and wrestling fans is growing. Fans of the bulking brutes and flashy showmen of the ring are drawn to Schamberger's passion and flair with a paintbrush. The wrestlers themselves dig his artwork, as well.
One champion at a time, Schamberger plans to paint every world champ from a range of promotions including WWE, TNA and Ring of Honor, as well as defunct companies such as the American Wrestling Association.
While Andy Warhol looked to soup cans and Marilyn Monroe for inspiration, Schamberger is drawn toward Brock Lesnar, Harley Race, The Rock and the long list of performers who used a wrestling ring as their canvas. He approaches his art with passion, borrowing from both classic painting and street art to honor these warriors.
On what compelled him to take on wrestlers as a subject, Schamberger cites being a fan and his desire to "show the proper appreciation to them." One of his goals is to show wrestlers "in a light that they haven't been much before."
He has done exactly that by merging the high art of portraits with what is generally considered low art—rasslin'.
Schamberger gives the men and women who toil in the ring a new spotlight. He adds a vibrant energy to their images, employing the use of colors that leap off the canvas and lighting more commonly seen on portraits of royalty.
It was CM Punk who inspired Schamberger to seriously embark on his venture.
In 2011, WWE fans watched intently during "The Summer of Punk." Punk straddled the line between script and reality, griping about his place in the company, the status quo and how the company brass was holding him down.
That story spoke to Schamberger, who, like many of those tuning in, was feeling underappreciated at his day job.
With Punk's popularity charging forward, he knew that there would be more interest in a painting of him. He has since painted countless other champions and Superstars.
His work was featured at WrestleCon 2013 and is on display at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Waterloo, Iowa. The subjects of his art have taken notice.
Twitter is abound with praise for pro wrestling's portrait artist from a long list of wrestling stars. Big E Langston is a fan.
The same goes for Roman Reigns, who shared Schamberger's painting of his father and uncle, The Wild Samoans.
Hall of Fame announcer Jim Ross called his paintings "classic."
About the positive reception from the wrestling world, Schamberger says, "It's been universally awesome." When he met several WWE wrestlers backstage recently, he said that many already knew and appreciated his work. He adds, "Several of them already had pieces in their house already."
This meeting of subject and artist came about because many of his paintings were set to go up on WWE.com for auction. Superstars have signed the mats and his original artwork is now one more reason to pull out one's wallet during WrestleMania season.
Schamberger makes larger-than-life Superstars even more compelling by adding a buzzing energy to the background, using bold strokes and working in a wrestler's narrative. Of his stunning portrait of Randy Orton, Schamberger said the following on his website:
The piece sat on my easel for a day or two because it just didn't feel right yet. Then it hit me, that this guy has put his chaos behind him but still carries it, and that allowed me to bring in the elements along the right side of the piece.
During the process of moving behind just copying a wrestler's likeness, Schamberger says that he looks to bring in his personality, energy and sometimes his current storyline onscreen. His goal is "to capture the essence of the wrestler."
That's where Schamberger has excelled.
The dark, frenetic energy that made Bruiser Brody so popular is captured with wild, colorful lines. Maurice Tillet's already haunting mug is punctuated in Schamberger's depiction with charcoal scraped across the wrestler's torso and a red streak spray-painted across his eyes.
Schamberger says that when he paints a hugely popular star like "Stone Cold" Steve Austin or Punk, he can do something that's not his best and still have it sell. It's the oft-forgotten legends of the past who frequently inspire him to create his most memorable work.
Of tackling a subject like George Hackenschmidt, who won his first world title in 1905, he says it puts "more of an onus on me to make the painting more visually interesting."
His challenge each time is "to make that painting sing."
His collection of wrestling paintings continues to grow. Putting every one of wrestling's world champions on canvas is a seemingly never-ending task. It's one that has already produced an assembly of awe-inspiring images.
His fanbase is sure to expand now that he's officially working with WWE, selling some of his paintings through the company. Each Tuesday, two to three new signed pieces will go up for auction on WWE.com.
Schamberger says he's especially appreciative of wrestling fans' support because art is no necessity and there are a lot of ways to spend one's money. For wrestling fans, it's a great feeling to see someone get this nutty, sports-like entity that they adore and to capture it so wondrously on canvas.
Note: All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.