Profile: Bernie Gross, Minimalist WWE Poster Designer

By Willis Arnold

The designer’s work has received positive and negative attention.

Gross designed posters for ’80s WWE icons like Hulk Hogan (top row, second from left). Photo: Bernie Gross.

During the Golden Age of professional wrestling in the 1980s, the sport had a full roster of stars, each of them with background stories, signature moves and personal styles: Andre the Giant’s single-shoulder black unitard, Hulk Hogan’s blond mustache and red bandana and Randy Savage’s sunglasses and cowboy hat. These costumes became symbols of World Wrestling Entertainment Inc., better known as WWE. Costumes helped elevate wrestlers from characters to “personal brands” well before the now-ubiquitous marketing concept.

While many of these former WWE stars have since retired, and some have even died, their legacies have been given an unexpected second life thanks to independent designer Bernie Gross’ minimalist posters.

“The reason why those guys are imbedded in our heads is that they were so well branded,” Gross, 27, said. “They had a story behind their look and their mannerisms that people recognized.”

Last April, Gross began work on a set of twelve posters, each referencing a different wrestler from the aforementioned era. By August, the popularity of Gross’ posters had erupted in the design community, the images showing up in Complex magazine and on other design and sports blogs. Today, Gross has sold almost 1,000 posters and has earned about $20,000.

Paul Strauss, the editor of design blog, said readers and employees connected immediately with Gross’ work.

“The content of these posters immediately jarred fond memories for us and many others in terms of watching wrestling matches and the sheer entertainment value of the medium,” Strauss said.

Gross had long been a fan of minimalist style in graphic design, incorporating it into the poster images. He thought the wrestler’s original costumes didn’t need much else to evoke their memory.

“I look at all my design work as not being an artist but as being a problem solver,” Gross said. “I wanted to prove that these guys were so well branded I could do it with so little elements.”

Strauss said that over 97,000 people saw Gross’ work on alone. A fan himself, he found Gross’s art unique among the other minimalist posters his site has featured.

“The simple images convey the spirit of the sport and the performers perfectly while using the bare minimum in illustration to do this, which in our opinion is very difficult for an artist to pull off,” Strauss said.

However, the posters have also garnered negative attention. WWE contacted Gross to offer a licensing agreement that his associates advised him was unfair. When Gross declined the offer, he received subsequent letters from WWE demanding he cease all sales.

“It got ugly and I tried to renegotiate and now they’re saying they don’t want me to do anything that contains WWE property,” Gross said. “I can’t use designs. I can’t enter royalty agreements. I was told to destroy what’s left.”

A WWE representative declined to comment.

At first, the project was just a labor of love. Gross didn’t know if the images would have an audience. One day, a coworker walked past his desk after he had left his laptop open.  When the guy saw the images, he insisted Gross find a way to promote them. So Gross set up an Etsy shop to sell the posters he had printed and shipped to his Queens apartment in order to sell them on the online marketplace for handmade items. In the first three months, Gross sold about five posters.

“I thought that was awesome,” said Gross of the meager sum.

Gross credits a customer of Extra Butter, a boutique clothing shop in Queens where the designer works, with providing the inspirational spark.

One day at the store, a 14-year-old customer brought up Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s return to pro wrestling with Gross and his coworkers. When Gross compared Johnson to Hogan, the kid stared at him blankly. He couldn’t understand why Gross was more interested in Hogan than a contemporary wrestler. Gross left the shop that day wondering how to show that kid and others like him why the WWE’s older generation of wrestlers are superior to its current performers.

But in the end, Gross’s source of inspiration turned on him. He has no choice but to comply with WWE’s demand to cease sales. But the posters can still be seen at

Next, Gross would like to focus on images inspired by classic rock and hip hop, but he’s acutely aware of possible legal ramifications.

“The dark side of the story is that now I’ve experienced the harsh reality of legalities that might impede my work even more when it comes to music celebrities,” he said.

Regardless, Gross knows the moment is his.


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