Rob Schamberger is WWE’s Artist in Residence, a position in which he creates paintings celebrating the WWE Superstars and the great moments in professional wrestling history. His work has been featured on Monday Night Raw, in WWE’s longest-running original YouTube program Canvas 2 Canvas, on official WWE shirts, in the WWE 2K video game, in Topps WWE SLAM, and with the Mattel WWE Elite action figures. Rob’s work is collected by people around the world and he has many paintings on permanent display at the Dan Gable Museum. Schamberger is the official artist of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum.
This year’s George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame weekend is July 26-28 in Waterloo, Iowa. Contact the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum at firstname.lastname@example.org or (319) 233-0745.
This year’s Hall of Fame week also marks your largest exhibit yet in the museum. Can you give us details?
I’ve been working with the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum for about six years and it was actually through my first appearance with them that I landed on WWE’s radar. Each year since then, I’ve done paintings of each of the inductees in that year’s Hall of Fame class.
This year, Museum Director Kyle Klingman reached out to me and wanted to do a museum takeover with my art. This will be the largest exhibition of my work ever with over 100 paintings displayed. It’s a massive honor. Every artist wants to have just one painting hanging in a museum. To have a museum turn itself over just to show my work is humbling beyond description.
What does it mean to you to have your work on permanent display in the museum and highlighted during such an important week?
Every artist wants to be able to make a living from art, but a lot of times that can seem almost transitory, like you’re making that sale in that moment but it feels like there’s not much legacy left. Having an institution like the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum put my work in their permanent collection gives that legacy and permanence to my work and raises the pedigree of the work itself.
The 2018 Hall of Fame class includes one of your all-time favorite wrestlers, Bruiser Brody, which means you’ll be painting a new portrait of him. Any thoughts on how you’ll approach this painting and what it means to see Bruiser Brody honored?
In an alternate universe, I get to just do Bruiser Brody paintings all day, every day. There’s a manic energy, like a modern barbarism, to him that is just so exciting to paint. The cold, calculated wild man — this dichotomy to him just gives me so much to work with beyond his already over-the-top visual appearance. I’m going to try to capture all of those things in the painting, but also just to make it as bombastic as possible.
I think that his being honored by the Hall of Fame will, I hope, do a lot to get across how important he was in life and in wrestling. He was a top star at a time where, to be a top star, you had to be signed with one of the major companies, but he never was. He would come in and do appearances, but he really was in the driver’s seat of his own career. That’s something that was hard to do then and it’s still hard to do today, and I think above anything else, that’s something that today’s generation and future generations should recognize.
What else are you looking forward to during the Hall of Fame week?
Because Owen Hart is being honored, which is well-deserved, several members of the Hart family are attending. And every year, Larry “The Axe” Hennig participates in the Hall of Fame week, too, so I thought that would make this year a great opportunity to do the latest in my Rivalry Series of paintings, featuring Bret Hart vs. Mr. Perfect. I’ll be painting that live at the museum during the week (July 26-28), and I think it brings everything together: the people who are being honored this year, those that have been honored in the past, the museum being turned over to showcase my art and people also being able to watch me make a painting.
If someone is visiting Waterloo for the first time, do you have a favorite restaurant or sightseeing recommendation?
Two of my favorite places are The Brown Bottle and Galleria de Paco. The Brown Bottle has fantastic Italian food and an ambiance that you wouldn’t expect in a small Iowa town — some of the walls are bookshelves and it’s just a really nice restaurant with very tasty food. I haven’t yet eaten at the Galleria de Paco, but you’ll want to be on the lookout — the art inside is incredible and they have a bar in the basement with a really cool vibe. They have a lot of drinks there, including a mojito that’s made with dry ice cubes that will give you a really cool experience. Speaking of drinks, don’t leave Waterloo without grabbing a beer at SingleSpeed Brewing, which is a short walk from the museum and features a Munich Helles lager-style beer named after Waterloo’s own Dan Gable. As far as something to see, walk over the covered pedestrian walkway on Fourth Street and take in the waterfall. It’s really gorgeous.