Acrylic, spray and paint marker on 24″ x 24″ wood
Big Van Vader is one of the most dominant and hard-hitting big men in the history of professional wrestling. Born in 1955 as Leon White in California, he was a notable football player in college before getting trained in pro wrestling by Brad Rheingans. He debuted with the American Wrestling Association in 1985 as first Baby Bull, then Bull Power, and also under his real name. While there he improved quickly until he soon challenged Stan Hansen in a losing effort for the AWA World Championship. In 1987 he debuted with New Japan Pro Wrestling as Big Van Vader and began a long feud with Riki Choshu. He also defeated the legendary Antonio Inoki in a match that started a riot and saw NJPW banned from the Sumo Hall for several years.
In 1989 he defeated Shinya Hashimoto in a tournament to win the vacated IWGP Heavyweight Championship. He lost it a month later, but later regained it from his old rival Riki Choshu. He then won the CWA World Heavyweight Championship in Europe, and later the Universal Wrestling Association World Heavyweight Championship, making him the only man to simultaneously hold three world championships on three different continents. In February 1990 he had a notoriously bloody and brutal match against Stan Hansen that started with Vader accidentally getting his nose broken, leading to a variety of stiff punches between the two that soon saw Hansen pop Vader’s eye out of its socket with his thumb! He was able to pop it back in and complete the match, but he would need a steel plate inserted to keep the eye intact afterwards. Later that year he participated in a talent exchange with World Championship Wrestling, making sporadic appearances for the American promotion. In 1992 he teamed with Bam Bam Bigelow before leaving for WCW full-time.
In WCW he was given Harley Race as his manager, making him an instant threat for Sting’s World Heavyweight Championship. In mid-1992 he won the title, but soon lost it to Ron Simmons in a historic match. Following the match Vader had knee surgery and was out of the picture for a brief time. In October he regained his title from Simmons and defended it against Davey Boy Smith, Sting and Dustin ‘Goldust’ Rhodes. In 1993 he entered into a series of brutal and often too-hot-for-TV matches against Mick Foley aka Cactus Jack. Following that he briefly feuded with Davey Boy Smith, and then began a team with Sid Vicious. He also reignited his feud with Foley, leading to accidentally causing Mick to lose his right ear in one match. He then began a notable feud with Ric Flair and later Hulk Hogan before leaving the company in 1995 after being dismissed following a backstage altercation with Paul Orndorff. In 1966 he briefly competed again for New Japan and faced off against Antonio Inoki again.
Soon he debuted with the World Wrestling Federation at the Royal Rumble and entered into a feud with Yokozuna. Over the course of the next two years he had notable rivalries with Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker and later against Goldust and Kane. He left the company in 1998 and returned to Japan. He competed there for All Japan Pro Wrestling and Pro Wrestling Noah through 2002, then entering into semi-retirement. In 2003 he had a brief run with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, and has made sporadic appearances in the years since.
About the piece: I started with black paint for the background and also his mask and singlet. Once that dried, I lightly sprayed some burnt ochre and red spray paint, creating a light gradient from the lower right corner upwards. The black I had painted made it easy to differentiate the two planes once it came time to do the body. I also added some swirly lines with paint marker as I felt that would create a little more energy for the final piece. I then painted the rest of the figure with acrylics, and I swear it didn’t look right until the very last brushstroke. But the concept I had in mind did make the whole thing come together at the end.