The art of wrestling

Jim Fischer
Artists Wrestling League

Ralph Walters called the Artists Wrestling League "the weirdest thing I've ever done."

To know Walters is to know that's saying something.

Following a tour of the Midwest, AWL returns to Franklinton on Friday, Nov. 29, for the inaugural Final Friday Freakout at the Vanderelli Room. AWL matches will be interspersed with sets by rock acts Cheap Heat and Howlin' Commandos — both of which, not coincidentally, play wrestling-themed tunes.

"Artists Wrestling League does well in that variety show atmosphere," Walters said in a recent interview inside the Vanderelli Room, which will transform into a wrestling ring for a live-art competition of sorts for the new, monthly AWL-centered event. "It's all about the pageantry."

Talk to Walters long enough about AWL and you begin to get the breadth of his knowledge of 1980s professional wrestling and corny "lucha libre" film. You also get the sense that the live painting is an excuse to wear the gear and trash talk fellow artists — not the other way around.

"It's impossible to explain to anybody what it is," Walters said. "'Is this wrestling or is this art?' The answer is, 'Yes.'"

Your Artist Wrestling League Name is the first name of the fifth contact in your phone plus your worst injury plus the last name of your favorite painter.  Sign up for our daily newsletter

The genesis of AWL, Walters said, was in an offhand proposal made in conversation a few years back in which the loser of a live painting competition would get hit with a folding chair. At first, Walters wasn't sure why it didn't seem quite right to him. The next day, he decided it was "because it didn't go far enough."

And so live-painting wrestling matches featuring characters with fully formed backstories, artist-created costumes, managers, announcers and all manner of physicality and silliness was born.

"It's become, actually, the biggest open-source art project I've ever done. Sure there's painting, but there is music written and performed, shooting and mixing video, acting,” Walters said. “People love the physicality.”

Walters said it's been fun to see artists — often introverts who spend a lot of time working alone and in serious mode — break out of that in a big way.

"We all had to get over that, being introverted. But for those of us who've become part of the League, we enjoy an artistic outlet that's not serious," Walters said.

Alicia Jean Vanderelli is excited to have AWL back in her space as part of a reimagining that finds her planning more events in the space, which has been primarily a gallery.

"Artists Wrestling League bringing their energy into the space was an integral part of the development of the Vanderelli Room," she said. "It's full circle to have them in Franklinton again."

"We started in Franklinton in 2015 and have performed more [at the Vanderelli Room] than anyplace else," Walters said. "We like the idea of having something regular here."

The Vanderelli Room

7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 29

218 McDowell St., Franklinton

Artists Wrestling League at Final Friday Freakout