Portrait power packs a punch at Blue Mountains Cultural Centre

Visitors to the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre's 2020 portrait exhibition might find themselves doing a double take if they stop for a coffee in the centre's cafe afterwards.

One of the cafe's baristas, Karl Downing, is also featured in the exhibition in the guise of his pro-wrestling alter ego, Jorg Wolfgang, a fearsome Viking warrior.

Friend and fellow wrestler, Tim Ressos, captured the image in a photo shoot at Downing's Leura home last year. Conceding that wrestling promotional shots aren't usually "romantic or pleasant", Ressos said he wanted to capture the artistic side of the sport.

"We're more artists and performers deep down," he said.

With an axe slung over one shoulder, a sword in one hand and icy glaze staring straight at the viewer, the portrait also incorporates more cerebral aspects of Downing's personality.

"Tim knew enough about my personality to put extra things there, like the chess board or my laptop because I'm a writer as well. He was able to tap into that," he said.

The pair met at the Australian Pro-Wrestling Gym at Penrith in 2016 and quickly struck up a friendship after discovering they had common creative interests.

An accomplished puppeteer (his wrestling character is called Le Monsieur 'The Grand Puppeteer'), Ressos studied at the Actors College of Theatre and Television in Sydney. He has acted in stage productions and performed stand-up comedy while Downing's interests range from writing to acting to martial arts.

The friends both pursued their passions overseas at the same time - Ressos at the World Puppet Carnival in Kazakhstan in 2017 and Downing in China training with Shaolin monks.

Ressos' artistic statement accompanying the portraits sheds even more light on his wrestling companion's character, describing Downing as "driven by complementary and sometimes opposing forces that interact to form an exceptionally unique individual who cares for others in a curious fashion".

"When he isn't representing the Blue Mountains in wrestling, he can be found consuming old English, Norse or Chinese literature, playing chess or video games, contemplating the words of Tom Waits and Buddha, Jung and Jackie Chan, Keats and Henry Rollins whilst rolling a cigarette and cracking wise with a sardonic, laconic smile," it states.

Downing hopes the portrait will also help dispel stereotypes that wrestling is all about the fighting - or that its proponents don't know (spoiler alert) that it's pre-determined.

"We're having fun, we're performing, we're artists, we're creatives," he said. "It's a way of expressing ourselves."

Downing's portrait will be one of more than 40 on display at the cultural centre from January 25 to March 22 as part of the Blue Mountains Portraits exhibition.

"Our local portrait exhibition is now in its third year and has quickly turned into our most popular annual event, with over 16,000 visitors in 2019," said Blue Mountains City Council's cultural services manager, Paul Brinkman.

"The exhibition is a great showcase of the creative talents found in the Blue Mountains together with the many fascinating stories that make up our unique community. Every year the selection process gets harder, with many artists vying for a place on the gallery wall.

"This year we will be exhibiting over 40 artworks that cross a wide range of subjects and art styles and once again we will be asking visitors to nominate their favourite piece for the coveted peoples' choice award for 2020."