The final in a series of Undertaker paintings by Rob Schamberger.
They say good things happen to good people.
And in a world in which headlines are dominated by terror attacks, threats and world strife, when good things do happen to good people, it’s worth noting.
One such noteworthy person is the incredibly talented Rob Schamberger.
Schamberger, a Kansas City-based artist, has taken the professional wrestling world by storm with his beautiful and awe-inspiring paintings that have, in many ways, become as iconic as the men and women he portrays in his work.
Schamberger’s wife Katy, a staunch Royals fan, put her husband’s work up against this writer’s work when this writer bit off a little more than his Toronto Blue Jays could handle in the American League Championship Series.
A friendly wager ended when the Royals eliminated the Jays in six games. Truth be told, I need zero excuses to catch up with Rob, whose work I greatly admire.
And nearly a year after we last spoke, Schamberger had a lot to update me on.
“It’s been a wild year,” Schamberger said over the phone while preparing for his latest painting session. “Last year moved really fast and I didn’t think that I would continue to experience that, but this year has been just as nuts, (right) from WrestleMania, where I’ll pull 12-, 13-hour days on a slow day (to now).”
Right from Day 1 at WrestleMania 31 in California, Schamberger was making people stand up and take note.
“Right after I had set up, the doors to the super store were still closed, I was outside of that, and I swear I heard a guitar chord or something and the doors open and out walks Triple H, coming right at me,” Schamberger recalled, with a chuckle. “My wife, she knows that everybody knows me, I know everybody, but she hadn’t seen it in person yet. It wasn’t him coming out and just observing everything. He wanted to come out and talk to me before everything started. The crowd were all losing their minds over it. He comes up, shakes my hand, congratulated me on some of the recent paintings, thanks me for coming out and went back along his way. I think his staff were just as shocked. A lot of the time, he’s so busy that you just don’t expect him to be involved in stuff because he’s being pulled in so many directions. He made a point of coming out to do that, let everyone else know.’ ”
The visit by the WWE legend and WWE’s executive vice-president of talent/live events/creative was just the beginning of an unreal experience for Schamberger, as down to Earth a person as you’ll find.
“There were times during (Fan) Axxess where we would have a line of 200 people waiting to buy prints,” Schamberger recalled, a hint of disbelief still remaining in his voice.
A personal welcome from Triple H and selling thousands upon thousands of prints were certainly highlights for Schamberger, but the crowning moment came later during the annual hall of fame ceremony, when he presented the family of the late Connor Michalek with a painting of their late son, who had died of cancer at just eight years old, but not before capturing the collective imagination of wrestling fans around the world, and the late Ultimate Warrior.
Rob Schamberger’s artwork of the late Connor Michalek and The Ultimate Warrior.
Schamberger described the moment as “an amazing experience” and “one of those things that put into focus why I do what I do.”
To quote the man who helped Schamberger down his current path, the great Jim Ross, business damn sure picked up after WrestleMania for Schamberger.
“I (attended) Cauliflower Alley maybe two weeks later in Las Vegas,” he said, where Larry (The Ax) Hennig was being honoured. “I thought this would be a good chance to do a nice, big portrait of Mr. Perfect Curt Hennig,” Schamberger said of Hennig’s late son, also a WWE legend. “I didn’t have any plans for the painting other than I just wanted to hang out and paint and BS with all of my friends who go there,” Schamberger added.
Of course, being who he is, Schamberger would make his mark as both an artist and person while at the CAC reunion.
“I hear sniffling behind me while I’m working and I turn around and it’s Larry’s wife, Irene, and one of their daughters, hugging, crying, looking at the painting,” Schamberger said. “I knew right then that this thing’s not going home with me, this is definitely going to the family. I reached out to (CAC’s executive vice-president) Morgan Dollar and was able to surprise Larry and Irene after he gave his acceptance speech for the Lou Thesz Award,” Schamberger said, adding that he received a standing ovation for his kind gesture.”
From there, it has been a whirlwind of appearances for Schamberger, including a couple of unforgettable appearances on WWE program, including one Schamberger wishes he could forget.
“I’ve done more appearances this year than any prior year, whether it’s painting live outside Battleground, where, unfortunately it was my second painting because the first one was destroyed by Kevin Owens,” he recalled, referring to the Canadian star and current Intercontinental champion. “That was the first time I became part of a meme, the thug life thing that was out there. Him destroying the painting was part of that. I haven’t been Autotuned yet, but I’m sure that’s coming,” Schamberger joked.
One night later, it was a more memorable appearance for the likable artist, when he was featured in a segment on Raw.
“The next night, being on Raw with Steph and Triple H, which led into that epic tear-apart between Lesnar and Undertaker — being part of that show was phenomenal.”
Other notables in the last seven months have been numerous Wizard World appearances and adding more and more of his work to WWE’s online shop, including the latest, which are T-shirts bearing Schamberger’s art. He’s also seen a huge growth in his own website, where he features much of his work.
“It has been growing like wildfire,” he said. “It went from 20,000 to 30,000 views to now I rarely have one that has under 100,000. I’ve had some go above a quarter million views in a week, which is astounding.”
Schamberger also painted the hall of fame piece of the late Macho Man Randy Savage at WrestleMania and tackled his biggest physical project at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame where he painted a piece that was 12-feet-by-eight-feet and celebrated pro wrestling and collegiate Olympic wrestling.
“It was a monster,” Schamberger admitted, saying it took him a full week to complete.
Oh, and he also moved into his own studio, complete with his two cats.
“Before I was sharing it with three other people.,” he said of his new digs. “We actually moved where we lived to a different apartment and then I took over where we were living, which was handy and nice. Before, a lot of times I had to work around the restrictions of my space, and now I make my space work around what I’m doing.”
Because his new studio and his new home are in the same building, Schamberger’s cats can travel to work with daddy. A purr-fect situation, really.
Schamberger’s latest wrestling work has been releasing a series of 25 paintings celebrating the career of the legendary Undertaker, who marked exactly 25 years in the WWE at Survivor Series on Sunday, where it all began for the man known as The Phenom.
The month-long Undertaker tribute comes on the heels of a month-long Halloween series Schamberger tackled in October, which featured numerous movie monsters.
“I must be big on self-punishment,” Schamberger joked “because I come up with this stuff on my own,” he said when asked if the Undertaker series was commissioned by WWE.
Most of the Undertaker tribute featured previous work, Schamberger said.
“The last five are brand new ones, which I’m excited about,” he said. “It was only the last one where WWE reached out to me and said ‘Hey, it’d be cool if you did a new painting showing the history of Undertaker.’ ”
Because he has a great relationship with the WWE’s keeper of its photo archives, Schamberger has the pick of the litter when it comes to unseen photographs.
When WWE officials realized that The Undertaker’s 25th anniversary would come exactly on the day at Survivor Series, they knew they had to reach out to Schamberger.
“The head of consumer goods with the company called me right after a department head meeting when they realized that Survivor Series falls exactly on the day of when Undertaker debuted with the company,” Schamberger said “One of his first thoughts was ‘Oh, we need to get Schamberger to do something with this. So yeah, to be one of the first thoughts (is humbling),” he said.
“They’re really excited by this painting and they’re going to do some really cool stuff with it. We’re going to have a shirt with it debut on the 22nd as well and lots of prints available on shop.wwe.com. It’s cool. It’s cool being officially part of that.”
The Undertaker tribute piece features a series of various Undertaker looks throughout the years, centering around one from his original Survivor Series debut in 1990.
Schamberger explained the process he went through with the piece.
“First, I wanted to try to incorporate the main eras of (The Undertaker),” he said. “He’s had so many notable eras, I still had to cut it down a bit to where it would work for the composition. (WWE’s) main thing was they wanted his Survivor Series debut prominently featured. So that figure I rendered more traditionally and then I have the history of him kind of spreading behind him to how he is now. It also forms up into a vulture, like he came out with at WrestleMania 9 at Caesar’s Palace.”
It’s a stunning piece, and one that Schamberger admitted was challenging.
“This painting didn’t really come easily to me,” he said. “I would work at it and then I would look at it. The way that I was working, if I started going in a certain way and I didn’t like it, I couldn’t go back and fix it. It was one that I had to be really deliberate with, let the painting speak to me about which way it wanted to go.”
The content, which features five Undertakers from various eras, isn’t the only tribute. Even its colours pay homage to the Deadman.
“It was largely a feel,” Schamberger said when asked about the process he went through to select the colours. “Also, I tried to go with more cool-type colours to match all the lighting that they do with him in his entrance.”
The final product, which Schamberger will sell on his website, is one of Schamberger’s favourites to date.
“I felt like and still feel like it’s one that I didn’t make mistakes on and it exceeded my expectations,” he said. “I’m just extremely happy with it. I still enjoy looking at it. A lot of times when I’m done with something, I’m done with it. I’m on to the next thing. With me, with my art, it’s about the experience and learning from that and applying what I’ve learned to the next week. That’s how you evolve as an artist. A lot of times, my old stuff, and when I say old I could mean the thing that I did yesterday, I’m just like ‘OK, that’s in the past, I’m moving on to the next one.’ But this one, I still feel like ‘Yeah, I did good on that.’”
Parting with work is much easier these days, Schamberger admitted.
“Not much anymore,” he answered when asked if it was hard to part with his work. “At first I did, because largely at first I was making things for myself, but as long as I know it’s going to a good home, I have no problem with it.”
That said, he has held onto some work over the years.
“The Edge Champion’s Collection one, it represented a lot,” he said. “I’m still very happy with that painting itself, but it was just one of those things that there were a lot of memories surrounding it. I’ll probably hold onto that one. There have been a couple that my wife didn’t want me to let go, but other than that, no.”
With each day comes new inspiration for Schamberger, as talented as he is humble. Following his Undertaker series, Schamberger said he plans to prepare for the holidays and keep an eye toward WrestleMania in the new year, which will be held in Texas and which could draw a crowd of more than 100,000 people.
“At this point, it’s mainly just building toward Mania,” Schamberger said when asked what’s on the horizon. “I’ve got a couple shows that I’m going to be backstage at getting things signed in preparation both for the holidays and for WrestleMania so that I can have inventory on hand. Mostly it’s just building to that at this point and breathing a little bit. It’s been a breakneck year.”
Not surprisingly, Schamberger takes nothing for granted.
“It absolutely has been (a life-changing experience),” he said of his business partnership with WWE. “You never know how quickly the public will forget about you, but I’m definitely doing everything that I can to make the most of the time that I’m having right now for sure.”
It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
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