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Rob Schamberger, the pro wrestling portrait artist

Rob Schamberger's painting of pro wrestler Edge.

Rob Schamberger's painting of pro wrestler Edge. Credit: Rob Schamberger

If you think Paul Heyman has a knack for making Brock Lesnar seem especially terrifying, you should see what Rob Schamberger can do with him.

Black eyes piercing through a pallet of yellows, oranges and browns. Paint dripping uncontrollably from his gnashed teeth down to his imposing pectorals. A reckless zigzag of blue highlighting a dark abyss in the background. If you never saw "The Beast Incarnate" wrestle a match in your life, you'd learn a lot about his character through Schamberger's painting.

"It's really important to me that it doesn't just look like the subject but it feels like them," Schamberger, 34, said. "With pro wrestling that's especially important. Because with so many of them, their over-the-top personas really need to be captured."

For three years now, the self-taught artist from Kansas City, Missouri, has been making a name for himself among pro wrestling fans for his ability to use watercolor, spray paint, acrylics and markers to capture the likeness and essence of the industry's biggest names.

Schamberger, who fell in love with pro wrestling after stumbling upon a Ric Flair promo about 15 years ago, discovered his artistic calling after hearing about a fellow artist's successful Kickstarter campaign for a studio project.

"I realized nobody was really serious doing artwork about professional wrestling. It was either, like, fan art or making fun of it -- kind of hipster, ironic stuff," said Schamberger, who previously had moderate success drawing comics. "As a wrestling fan and as someone who really appreciates art, I thought to myself, 'There has to be someone else out there like me that would enjoy this.'"

And there were.

In one month, Schamberger raised $20,000 through Kickstarter for supplies and studio space. Shortly after that, he decided to make the project a full-time job, with the goal of painting the portrait of every world champion in every major wrestling promotion over the last 100 years. Three years in, he's painted 110 of the 250 wrestling champions on his list.

"A lot of them have kind of been forgotten," Schamberger said of the members of his Champions Collection. "When I did the portrait of Bearcat Wright, the actual first African-American world champion, I heard from his family. They were like, 'We thought everyone had forgotten him, and here you are celebrating him.' And that's really cool."

Schamberger's career got a major boost last year when former WWE announcer Jim Ross, with whom Schamberger had become acquainted, reached out to WWE executives. The company contacted Schamberger and made a deal to sell his prints and original paintings on its website and at live events. WWE even features a new video of Schamberger creating one of his paintings on its Youtube channel each week.

Making the arrangement all the sweeter, Schamberger routinely goes backstage to have his paintings signed by WWE superstars -- many of whom are in awe of his work.

"It's still very cool," Schamberger said. "The other day 'Stone Cold' [Steve Austin] threatened me with a stunner if I didn't do his portrait right."

On a particularly productive day, Schamberger can knock out five wrestlers' portraits. More complex paintings have taken him as long as a month. He counts among his favorite pieces a portrait of Edge bathed in purple light, and another of Eddie Guerrero that was inspired by Latino street art.

But the piece that may mean the most to Schamberger was painted not on a canvas, but rather on the back of a black trench coat. It was the coat worn by the Ultimate Warrior in his last WWE appearance.

"It was like two months before WretsleMania that his agent emailed me and asked me if I'd be interested in doing his jacket. And I was like, 'Well, yes. Of course I'd love to do that,'" Schamberger said. "Then he called me and we talked for like an hour or so. He was an artist himself and we ended up talking for a long time about technique and influences and inspiration."

And while Schamberger said he remains interested in all kinds of art, he has no qualms about being known as "the wrestling artist."

"I doubt it ever bothered Leroy Neiman that he became known as the sports artist. I don't have a problem with it," Schamberger said. "If I became the wrestling equivalent of Thomas Kinkade, I think that's OK."

Schamberger has teamed up with WWE and Austin to help raise money for Connor's Cure--a charity set up by WWE in honor of 8-year-old superfan Connor "The Crisher" Michalek, who died earlier this year from a rare form of cancer affecting his brain and spinal cord. Schamberger's painting of Austin--created live in front of fans during SummerSlam weekend--is being auctioned off by WWE with all proceeds going to The Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation for research and pediatric cancer and medical care for kids young patients. Fans can bid on the painting at WWE's auction site through Tuesday night.

New York Sports