When Minnesota Governor Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura needed a portrait done for the Governor’s mansion, he knew who to turn to — his old tag team partner ‘The California Terminator’ Steve Strong.
Saturday night in Las Vegas, Strong unveiled the new portrait at the Cauliflower Alley Club reunion, before Governor Ventura even got a chance to see it.
Strong’s vision has Ventura, clad in armour, atop a while stallion and hoisting an American flag. It is bound to cause controversy in Minnesota when it arrives.
“[It’s] totally my concept and my idea, execution,” Strong explained to SLAM! Wrestling at the CAC convention. “I had a vision that this is what I was going to do, and I felt this is the most representational aspect of Jesse that I could portray.”
It’s not like Ventura isn’t colourful enough on his own. “Being as though Jesse’s campaign and his whole lifestyle are very unconventional, I knew that perhaps if anybody could change the trend [of traditional portraits] it would be him.”
Ventura and Strong were tag team champions together in Hawaii in July 1977, defeating Sam Steamboat & Billy White Wolf in a tournament final. They held the titles until early 1978, losing to Russ Francis & Bill Francis, the sons of Hawaiian promoter Ed Francis.
When he wrestled in Hawaii, Strong was dubbed “the master of two canvases” for his skills in and out of the ring. He first started painting at age seven, and has continued throughout his lfe.
“I had been painting ever since I got on the road when I broke in the business with Stu Hart in ’73-’74. I did cartoons on the road, and the odd oil painting when time permitted,” Strong said.
“My passion and love has always been the brush. I couldn’t satisfy the physical aspect of my life solely through the ring, so both of those together gave me a completion.”
Strong was a true wrestling muscleman, a powerful, flamboyant grappler who had his biggest success in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Pacific Northwest and in the California-based promotions. He never hid the fact that he modelled his career on other buff stars like ‘Superstar’ Billy Graham. In 1975, he had a short run as a main event performer in the Mid-Atlantic area.
It was a great honour for Strong to unveil his painting of Ventura at the Cauliflower Alley Club dinner. “I have such a strong feeling towards the respected pioneers, the tradition … and giving recognition to the men that started this business. I’ve always been into that, and I felt that they were more deserving than any other venue to unveil this portrait.”
But Strong was disappointed he didn’t get to meet another well-known wrestler-turned-artist, British Columbia’s George Gordienko. “When I first broke into the business, and Stu and the family understood that I was an artist, they talked ad nauseum about George Gordienko and how talented he was and what beautiful work he did. For them to say that there was another wrestler that had this ability that I had aspired to. I wanted to meet him and see his work. I was so hoping that he was going to be here.”