Acrylic on 24″ x 24″ wood
“Cowboy” Bob Ellis is one of the most famous cowboy wrestlers in the history of the sport, and arguably the first successful cowboy wrestler ever. Ellis was born in Texas to a father who was on the wrestling commission in the San Angelo area. As a youth his passion was with football, excelling in high school and college and even played some pro games for the Philadelphia Eagles. He served three years as a paratrooper during the Korean War, and played on the Army football team during that time as well. He was one of the first gym owners in Texas, bringing the art of bodybuilding to the state, of which he himself was a notable practitioner. The National Football League would only pay him $5000 a season back then, so he soon gravitated to the world of pro wrestling where he would go on to earning that much in one night. He was a graduate of Sandor Szabo’s elite wrestling school and later debuted in New Mexico as Bob Elliott. After working for a year under that name, the promoter gave him the Cowboy gimmick, and Ellis quickly became a top draw on every card.
His finishing move with gimmick was the bulldog, a maneuver Ellis created based off of how he would capture steers from his youthful days in the rodeo. The bulldog is a maneuver still used to this day, most notably currently by CM Punk. As a top babyface, he had notable feuds with Dick the Bruiser, The Destroyer, Buddy Rogers and Fritz Von Erich, among others. He also had a notable tag team run with Johnny Valentine, with whom they had a long run against The Fabulous Kangaroos. Ellis was a three-time World Wrestling Association World Heavyweight Champion, defeating The Destroyer in 1964 for the Los Angeles version, and then defeating Baron von Raschke in 1972 and later Jimmy Valiant in 1974 for the Indianapolis version of the WWA. He also wrestled throughout the National Wrestling Alliance territories, having battles with the likes of Bob Geigel, Sonny Myers, and Bulldog Bob Brown, in the American Wrestling Alliance against Mike DiBiase, Bobby Heenan, and Ox Baker, and in the World Wrestling Council against Ali Baba and Carlos Colon. “Cowboy” Bob Ellis debuted in the world of pro wrestling in 1955 and retired from it in the early 1980’s and during that time reportedly had over 5000 matches. His kind had never been seen before, and may never again.
About the piece: I wanted to continue to experiment with the approach I used for my Pat O’Connor portrait with this one, as they were similar in the time they wrestled in and the importance of their respective careers. I first laid down the blacks with a brush, then watered down acrylic paints and applied them with a sponge brush, letting the paint drip wherever it wanted to. I had a stroke accidentally splash some paint upwards across the piece and liked that, so I did it a few more times! Because I had the figure so defined with the blacks, I didn’t need to be as representative with the splashes of color, mostly implying tone instead of actually portraying form. It lead to a lot of happy accidents, which is always fun.
Note: I got a lot of the biographical information for this post from this excellent interview with Ellis done by Rick Rockwell.