I recently sat down with Kansas City professional artist Rob Schamberger, who is currently working on a huge project to paint each of the World Champions in all of the major American wrestling promotions. You can follow Rob on Twitter @RobSchamberger, or visit his website for samples of his work.
A few months ago you made a proposal to the internet, and your friends and family, and set out on a near impossible task: to paint each and every one of wrestling's great (and not-so-great) World Champions. Tell us a little about yourself, and what inspired this crazy dream.
A mental break? I've been a fan of pro wrestling since 1998 when I saw Ric Flair cutting a promo in WCW, and I was hooked. WWE's show at the time was fantastic, and I became a regular viewer. I've been a professional artist since 1997, working mostly in comic books and illustration, and a few years ago transitioned into the gallery scene. I would do collections of different subject matter, like jazz or the last one of women from girly mags of the 50's and 60's. Believe it or not, I got tired of drawing half-naked ladies and wanted to do something different. It doesn't get more different than wrestling! I wanted a clear goal with the collection, and I opted to paint every World Champion for all of the major US promotions. It's going to be nearly 230 paintings!
Recently, your Kickstarster project met its goal, fully funding your project. What was it like to receive such an outpouring of support, especially from so many people you'll likely never know?
It's amazing, man. I've worked really hard my whole life, for small rewards. I finally hit on something where people took notice, and in a very big way. I get asked, "Is there money in that?" or "Wrestling fans don't spend money." Hundreds of people worldwide gave up twenty thousand of their hard-earned dollars in this shaky economy, proving that hard work and dedication pays off. These people changed my life in a very big way, and I'm eternally thankful.
This project is obviously going to take you some time to complete. How far have you come, and have far do you still have to go?
I've finished 28 so far, and about 200 to go! Of course, that's assuming there aren't a rash of first-time champions soon!
Who has been your favorite World Champion to paint thus far? Do you have any special attachment to any of your portraits?
Ah, you're asking me to pick my favorite kid! Adam Pearce (now a 5-time NWA Champion!) was the first World Champion to reach out to me and publicly support the project, so I put some extra effort into his portrait. WWA Champion Bruiser Brody's my favorite wrestler of all time, so that was fun to do. The most emotional one so far was Owen Hart (he won the World Title in the USWA), as I'm here in Kansas City where he passed away. Bret tweeted out a picture of the painting on the anniversary of Owen's passing. Amazing.
What kind of exposure has your project brought you? Have any wrestlers paid attention to your work, or have you been able to meet any of them to share you what you've accomplished?
It's been tremendous on a global scale. I actually get stopped on the street now because people recognize me from the news or online! So weird. The wrestling community has welcomed me and this project with very open arms. I exhibit at a lot of local shows like Metro Pro and Harley Race's WLW and soon with 3XW. I had the honor of exhibiting at the Dan Gable Professional Wrestling Museum in Waterloo, IA a couple of weeks ago, where I got to spend a good amount of time with JBL, Gerry Brisco, Jim Ross, Dan Severn, and a who's who of legends. Online I've had support from numerous luminaries like Nigel McGuinness, Bret Hart, Colt Cabana, Kevin Steen, Dolph Ziggler, Samoa Joe, Curt Hawkins…and I'm sure many others that I can't believe I'm not remembering! Oh yeah! Even David Arquette! Kevin Steen won his first World Title on the same day I hit my Kickstarter goal! It was a sign!
I remember something in your Kickstar project about potentially opening a studio to display all of your work when its all finished – obviously excluding the paintings being sent out to all your supporters. Any update on that?
I have a studio now, moved in about a month and a half ago. It's just a work space and not for exhibiting the work (that ended up being beyond my budget), but I've had regular showings with other galleries here in Kansas City, and now out of the area as well! In August I'll have a piece exhibited in San Diego and in September I'll have another exhibited in Maine! Coast to coast!
I imagine this project takes up most of your time. What do you look forward to most about being done with it all, and do you have any goals or plans moving forward?
To say I did it. No one's done this before, at the level I'm doing it. Beyond selling the paintings, I have two big goals with this project: First, I'd really dig getting covered by an art magazine like Juxtapoz. That's entirely egotistical of me and self-centered, but that's one of those things in the art world that says you've made it. Second, when I do my painting of John Cena, I want to put it up for auction to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Ideally, I'd like to do this as a part of WWE's Wrestlemania art show. I've raised some money for Make-A-Wish already through some prints I did with Harley Race, and I'd love to take that to the next level, especially with everything John Cena does with the organization. Friends: Let's make this happen!
After the project, I have no clue. I've got 200 paintings ahead of me to complete! My life has changed so dramatically in the last few months that I have no way to predict what's coming next. And after an adult life of sitting in a cube and doing the same thing the same way every day? These changes are awesome and I owe it all to the wrestling community, especially the fans. Thank you all!