The artistic merit of large men who wrestle in their diapers

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By Caitlin Donohue

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Sumo will save us all! Andy Ristaino's contribution to "Into the Ring, Sumo Style"

The life of a sumo wrestler, as it turns out, is not much unlike that of a thoroughbred racehorse. Both live in stables- called heya in the case of the Japanese martial artists, where life is highly stratified by the wrestlers' ranks- and both live life according to their handlers. For the sumo wrestler, this is the head of their stable, always an ex-wrestler, and the National Sumo Association. Their stable head oversees their sleep schedule, diet, what clothing they can wear (novices get a paper-thin robe, even in the winter) and training, while the National Sumo Association takes care of everything else. One unlucky sumo wrestler had the bad luck to crash his car and the Association immediately suspended him from a game. On a short leash, them sumo boys.

Plus, they both do drugs. Racehorses have their ‘roids or horse tranquilizers or whatever they use to get quick, and it turns out sumo wrestlers have been known to toke the wacky weed on occasion.

This all to say that there is more than meets the eye about these exotic creatures. Something about all this regimen, their sleekly obese good lucks, and they way they throw themselves around... one begins to see why the mystique of the sumo has spread to the Bay Area artists that are putting on “Into the Ring, Sumo-Style,” an exhibit showing at the SOMarts Cultural Center.

Leading the pack is cartoonist Marinaomi, whose watercolor renditions of sumo wrestlers belching and excreting colorful balloons set the tone for an offbeat assemblage of pieces that pay homage to these whales of the Land of the Rising Sun. You get Sumo Elvis (Gabrielle Gamboa), Sumo Food Court (Fredrick Nolan) and even Sumo Godzilla Fighter Andy Ristaino). It all takes place in the arty SOMA industrialized wonderland that is SOMarts, a place I love for the sheer originality of their installations.

Picture it: fat men with their hair in buns, everywhere. All that and free sake to boot. Bomb.

"Into the Ring, Sumo Style"
Opening Reception: Fri/15 6-9 p.m. (exhibit continues through Sat/23), free
SOMarts Cultural Center
934 Brannan, SF
www.somarts.org