Wrestler & Artist Steve
Strong (Steve Cepello)
Bodybuilder Dave Draper
Wrestler & Artist Steve Cepello
Los Angeles artist Stephen Cepello
wrestled under the name Steve
Strong in the late 1970s when he was
a tag-team partner of Jesse Ventura.
He painted Minnesota's official
portrait of Governor Ventura and
another portrait that hung in the
governor's mansion. See them both in
the gallery below.
This is an article by Jim
Ragsdale from the St. Paul
Pioneer Press. Friday, Nov. 14,
STRONG AND SILENT
Observers say ex-Gov. Jesse
Ventura's portrait captures him;
BY JIM RAGSDALE
Minnesota's most unorthodox
governor came back to the
Capitol for good Thursday.
Gazing searchingly into the
distance, his precious Navy
insignias on his lapel, Rodin's
"The Thinker'' at his side and a
lit cigar in his hand, former Gov.
Jesse Ventura is depicted as a
serious-minded visionary in his
The oil painting, by an artist who
was Ventura's tag-team
wrestling partner in the 1970s,
was unveiled and mounted at
the Capitol, the 38th such
portrait to grace the halls.
"It captures the unique elements
of his personality and style and
strength,'' said Ventura's
successor, Gov. Tim Pawlenty,
who attended the ceremony.
"It's playful, yet serious and
Ventura attended but chose not
to speak at the unveiling, leaving
those duties to his wife, Terry,
spokesman John Wodele and
the artist, Steve Cepello.
Ventura glared at reporters who
tried to approach and
responded to their questions
with stony silence. A radio
reporter said Ventura grabbed
his microphone and dropped it
on the floor when he tried to
tape Ventura's conversation
without Ventura's permission.
It was Ventura's first official visit
to the Capitol since he left office
in January. He was elected in
1998 as the nation's only Reform
Party governor (later breaking
away to form the Independence
Party of Minnesota).
His nationwide fame and cachet
with independent-minded voters
was such that Vice President Al
Gore courted him during Gore's
2000 presidential campaign.
Ventura did not seek re-election
last year, when the post-Sept. 11
economy had blown holes in the
state's budget, and now has a
weekly show on the MSNBC
cable television network.
He sat in the front row with
family, friends and former aides,
watching as Cepello and Brian
Szott, curator of art for the
Minnesota Historical Society,
pulled a string and unveiled the
The crowd rose and gave the
artist and his work a standing
ovation. "I sat in front of my
easel and I pondered - was this
to be a memorial, or maybe a
stay of mortality, or a testimony
to a fiercely independent
personality of my friend Jesse?''
said Cepello, who wrestled with
Ventura under the name "Steve
Strong'' and still has long,
surfer-blond hair. "I chose them
The painting shows Ventura in
an outdoor setting, with an
ominous, dark sky contrasting
with the light illuminating that
familiar shaved head and
rugged face. Ventura wears a
blue suit, a red, white and blue
tie and the one element he
insisted on: insignias from his
days as a Navy frogman in the
One hand rests on the famous
image of Rodin's "The Thinker,''
which figured prominently in
Ventura's inventive television ad
campaign in 1998. Another
holds a lit cigar - a Ventura
trademark that is sure to make
waves in anti-smoking circles. A
golf hole symbolizing his
favorite pastime, a train showing
his commitment to light-rail
transit, the Minneapolis skyline,
the Capitol and the Mississippi
River all appear in the painting.
Ventura's gaze is serious. There
are no pink boas from his pro
wrestling career, which he
continued as governor with a
one-night appearance in the
summer of 1999. There are no
microphones from his
broadcasting days, which he
also continued as governor,
signing on as a pro football
color commentator for the XFL
during the winter of 2001.
It is a fairly traditional portrait for
this most untraditional of
governors. The emphasis is on
policy and governance, not on
his appearances with Jay Leno
and David Letterman or his
celebrated rows with legislators
and the media.
"I think it's very realistic,'' said
former Lt. Gov. Mae Schunk,
Ventura's running mate. "It
depicts who he was - the vision
that he brought to Minnesota
when he wanted policy
developed…. I saw him in the
meetings always being very
serious, very sensitive, and very
concerned about what's good
for the people of Minnesota.
That was Governor Ventura.''
Dean Barkley, Ventura's political
mentor who became his
planning director and, briefly, an
interim U.S. senator following
the death of Paul Wellstone,
praised the image. "It's the real
Jesse Ventura,'' Barkley said.
"I've seen that look several
times. He caught Ventura, the
Bill Hillsman, the advertising
man behind Ventura's 1998
campaign ads, saw symbolism
in the weather patterns. "I like
the fact that the sky is ominous,
but there's a crack of light on the
horizon,'' he said. "The
symbolism is obvious … the
future is back to the Democrats
and the Republicans, but there's
still a glimmer of light on the
horizon, which means there's
still hope for independents and
Toward the end of the
ceremony, Terry Ventura said,
"Are you feeling like talking
today, husband?" He shook his
head and she concluded the
event. Ventura kept reporters
out of a reception in a public
Capitol hallway, but allowed a
crew from MSNBC.
Bill Werner, Capitol reporter for
WMNN and the Minnesota News
Network, said he tried to tape
Ventura as he chatted with a
former commissioner in the
Capitol before the ceremony
started. Werner said Ventura
grabbed the microphone,
dropped it to the floor and told
him not to tape him without his
John Wodele, Ventura's
longtime spokesman, said he
was unaware of the incident.
On Wednesday, Dan Creed, who
lost his job in 2002 as manager
of the Governor's Residence,
called a news conference to talk
up his new book about the
Ventura family and their use of
the building. Wodele said Terry
Ventura was deeply hurt by the
book, which is titled "Governor
Ventura: The Body Exposed.''
PORTRAIT SPARKS QUEST FOR A 'VENTURA
The Associated Press
Thursday, December 18, 2003
St. Paul, Minn. - Chalk it up to "The Da Vinci
Code," but folks in Minnesota's Capitol are
squinting for hidden meanings in a new
portrait of ex-Gov. Jesse Ventura.
For the state's most colorful governor ever,
the painting unveiled last month is fairly
That may be why, as tour guides note, many
viewers are looking for more.
Artist Steve Cepello isn't revealing any
secrets, but he also isn't discouraging the
"A magician can never say anything about his
magic," said Cepello, like Ventura a former
professional wrestler. "I'm not going to deny
or say that there isn't anything there because
there could be. There could be."
To be sure, the painting is full of obvious
Behind Ventura, viewers can plainly see a light
rail train, a pet project of Ventura's, and there
are Navy jump wings on the ex-SEAL's lapel.
Ventura's hand rests on a copy of Auguste
Rodin's sculpture, "The Thinker," a nod to one
of his campaign ads.
But some tourists are sure they see cursive
letters in the folds of Ventura's sleeve. A few
swear they see someone else depicted in
Among the questions raised by the painting:
Why was Cepello quoted by reporters before
the unveiling saying it would have references
to Ventura's wrestling career if it does not?
Cepello said he was misunderstood.
Is there any message on Ventura's sleeve?
Look hard enough, and it seems one can just
about make out letters in the folds of a suit
sleeve. Could they be W-W-F, representing
Ventura's old employer?
How about the face on the portrait's "The
Thinker." He appears to have a mustache in
the painting, unlike in the original. Is someone
Bill Hillsman, the adman who created the
Thinker spot for Ventura's '98 campaign,
thinks the figure in the painting looks a little
like Cepello himself, a large man with long
golden hair and a prominent mustache.
"Maybe the artist paints in little pictures of
himself?" he wondered.
No, Cepello answered, there is no mustache
on his Thinker, only a pushed-up lip.
Could there be another face in the folds of
Ventura's American flag tie? Like one of those
illusion posters: Stare long enough and a
head seems to jump out at you.
Cepello said he did joke with Ventura about
hidden messages. He said he told Ventura he
used degenerative oil and, eventually, "it will
begin to deteriorate, revealing a naked Jesse
with a pink boa."
That, at least, might stop the squinting.
About the Artist
(source: Moose Attitudes)
Stephen Cepello divides his time between Los
Angeles and his studio in the mountains. There
is a physical and spiritual grandeur to painting.
He was raised and educated in Arizona.
Although not exclusively a southwestern
painter, Cepello is passionate and sensitive to
his home state's history, and subsequently, a
knowing guide for anyone with an infatuation
with the Old West.
His work is in major collections across the
In Hawaii, where he lived for years, he was
known as one of the most respected and top
selling seascape artists. Knowledgeable
collectors of nautical works prize his oils for
their extreme attention to the minute detail and
He is also an artistic authority on marine
mammals and actively engaged in aquatic life
preservation. He is on the board of directors
for the Whale Rescue Team, an organization
whose mission is to free entangled whales and
When Cepello was invited to present his hugely
successful one-man show at the prestigious
Ashcroft Gallery and Museum in Scottsdale,
Arizona, his paintings were said to echo the
mastery of Henry Farney and Charles His
technique and vision may well be compared to
N.C. Wyeth, or Russell, but his paintings are
uniquely, and superbly, Cepello.
With unprecedented skill and the fiercest of
emotion, Stephen Cepello's work mesmerizes
the viewer by surging into burning sunsets and
vast mountainscapes; canyon gorges breaking
for violent running rivers and towering rock
walls that jut in relentless glimpses of sheen; or
stagger one's senses with a single isolated
figure in the wash of the wind, recreating both
the tumult and the silences of a vast empty
landscape. Stephen Cepello is eminently
deserving of the Hague International Exhibition
Award. He is also the recipient of the coveted
Louis Whitney Kassler Award.
His Gallery associations have included:
Los Angeles, CA
H & G Studios
Simon White Galleries
Washington, DC & NYC
Janeway & Rothschild Arts, LTD
Fort Worth, TX
The DeMille Gallery
Laguna Beach, CA
Wainethraub Fine Art
Wrestler & Artist Steve Strong
Wrestler & Artist Steve
Strong (Steve Cepello)
Click here to see Greg
Oliver's 2001 interview with
Wrestler & Artist Steve
Strong (Steve Cepello)
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