Art show preview: Artist Wrestling League dropkicks art with "Wrestle This!"

Jesse Tigges, Columbus Alive

When Ralph Walters, a 400 West Rich artist responsible for curating and organizing some of the most fun and accessible - yet wild and weird - art events and exhibits in the last few months, asks himself, "How can I take live painting too far," one can expect the unexpected.

Having turned last fall's exhibit "It's Saturday Morning Somewhere" at The Vanderelli Room in January, it's no surprise Walters thought marrying live painting with the tenants and theatrics of professional wresting would be perfect. While most wouldn't think wrestling and art are compatible, most people aren't Walters. It takes a mind like that to make the incongruent concepts work.

"I want there to be no wrestling whatsoever. That's really the only thing that's going to differentiate this from any other wrestling program. Instead of actual wrestling, it'll be the art battles. Otherwise I want it to be everything you love about wresting - signature moves, smack talk, ways that certain villains cheat," Walters said during an interview at his studio. "The way this whole thing works is, two wrestlers face off. The ref has 10 seconds to solicit ideas from the audience and will pick one he likes. Then we have 15 minutes to paint, and he chooses the winner based on audience applause. The winner gets to break something over the loser."

Yes, artists are going to become wrestlers and participate in a live painting battle for the inaugural Artist Wrestling League event "Wrestle This!" (Don't worry, the objects being broken are sugar-glass beer bottles and two-by-fours made of Styrofoam.) Each of the 12 artists partaking has created a ridiculously bizarre and hilarious persona, complete with a fully formed costume.

Walters will become El Derango, a luchador-clad maniac with an infected bite. Jay Mueller will transform into Feral "Bad Dog" Bueller, a wild man raised by wolves, kidnapped by trailer trash and forced to fight in Artist Wrestling League (for beer money and morning-after pills). And then there's Thunder (Chris Tennant), one half of the tag team The Destroyers, who'll compete solo because his partner, Doug, is recovering from previous injuries. Spoiler alert: We're probably never going to meet Doug.

There are backstories for all 12 wrestlers (plus the referee and ring girl Daytona, whose "daddy named her after the race"), but I think you get the point. This is all about having fun, and even the spectators are encouraged to wear costumes.

"I want this to be, and I've described this to the wrestlers, a wrestling-themed 'Pee-wee's Playhouse' that's a little more adult. Not too much more … because I don't want to close our audience off. There's a lot of asides and innuendo. It should be interesting and weird," Walters said with a cackle.

That dedication to entertainment is paramount, as some artists have agreed to a handicap. There will be villain wrestlers - who will cheat by slashing paint on their opponent's canvas when the ref isn't looking - and those who paint with props.

"There's Jimmy 'Wildman' Folk. He's a friend to nature, but a dick to everyone else, and he's going to paint with that axe. He better not lop a finger off, or I'm going to be so angry. But he actually studied painting with a knife to get an idea of how you would do that, which I think is brilliant," Walters said. "We also have very bad wrestlers. Kat Taztrophe paints with kitten paws, so she can't possibly paint the topic given her."

Augmenting the live painting tournament will be some wrestling-themed art displayed in Strongwater Food and Spirits event space. Pieces include wrestler paintings, an entire set of Lucha Libre wrestlers and ring, and a handful of other two-and-three-dimensional works. The live painting created during matches may also be offered.

Walters also plans to have more Artist Wrestling League events. Urban Brawl at the weekend-long live mural painting event Urban Scrawl is finalized, and discussions for another one at Independents' Day in September are in the works. Walters will also produce a web series that will post episodes - one battle per episode, and two for the championship bout - on the league's Facebook page.

Photos by Meghan Ralston

400 West Rich

7 p.m. Friday, March 13

400 West Rich St., Franklinton