Acrylic on 24″ x 24″ wood
Bearcat Wright holds the honor of being the first ever African-American world champion in professional wrestling. Born January 13, 1932, Edward Wright was the son of boxer Ed “Bearcat” Wright, whose ring name he carried on. “Bearcat Wright Jr” even had a successful 8-0 record as a boxer himself, before focusing on the world of wrestling. He worked throughout the West Coast, Midwest and the South, dramatically even as a heel. Black men working as villains was a real rarity in that time due to racial tensions, of which Wright was one of the first to do so. He also found himself suspended by the Indiana State Athletic Commission after announcing to a crowd there that he would no longer wrestle in the state until the sport was desegregated.
On August 23, 1963, five days before Martin Luther King, Jr’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech Bearcat defeated “Classy” Freddie Blassie for the World Wrestling Association World Heavyweight Championship, becoming the first African American to ever win such a championship in the sport. Despite the accomplishment, his reign was mired in controversy when he refused to drop the belt back to Blassie. The WWA ended up substituting legendary Judo practitioner Gene LeBell for Blassie, knowing that LeBell could legitimately defeat Wright should he choose to not lose. Bearcat opted to not compete in the match, leading to his being stripped of the title. Despite this, he remained a draw wherever he worked and continued to compete into the 1970’s.
About the piece: Unfortunately Bearcat Wright’s accomplishments have been lost to the ebbs and flows of time, so his face is largely unrecognized by today’s audience. This freed me up to be a little more conceptual with the piece. I first primed the wood with some off-white house paint, then sketched out the figure with some charcoal. I laid out some watered-down black acrylic, letting it drip and flow as it wanted. I applied the blacks with a sponge brush, and then the rest of the colors with both a palette knife and my fingers.