Off the PitchMay 29, 2018

A Beautiful Escape: Stefan Frei on Using Art as an Outlet

It started with a landscape seen through a train window. The bright spots of color in the trainyards and underpasses of Switzerland spoke to Stefan Frei as he traveled to school or soccer practice. “I was always kind of gazing out the window, trying to find these bright pieces of art, and they just kind of spoke to me,” Frei recalled, “I was always fascinated by them.” That fascination grew into a passion for art that Frei carried with him into his career as a professional soccer player.

Frei didn’t train as an artist. While art and architecture were both areas of study that attracted him in college, his development as a goalkeeper came first. Still, he retained his love for both disciplines and for the geometry that provided the foundation of the work he admired. “It was clean angles, clean lines, circles, almost like harmony,” Frei said, “so that was always something that spoke to me.”

To accommodate the difficult schedule of a student-athlete, Frei instead pursued his interest in classical civilizations, particularly Egyptology, and put his primary focus into becoming a professional soccer player. That focus, and an impressive college career at UC Berkley, paid off when Frei was drafted by Toronto FC in 2009. He quickly established himself as the starter between the posts and put in 82 appearance with the club over the next 4 years.

It was around this time that art became more serious for Frei. His mother and brother got him his first pen tablet, allowing him to draw digitally, and Frei began to really work and develop a style. “It was a really good balance at first to kind of unwind from the stress of being a goalkeeper, the mental aspect of the position,” Frei remembered.

Frei then made the move to the Seattle Sounders, and that was when his interest in creating art got more serious. He began to pick up design projects for sponsors and for the team itself. His personal work also continued to develop. But, even through this, Frei was 100% committed to his job as a soccer player. “I’m a goalkeeper, and I want to give my utmost respect and time to everything that job and my passion for it requires,” Frei said, “It’s not like I have training and then I come home and I’m done. Recovery and nutrition, all of those things are very important. So, I’ve got to make sure that I take care of that as well.”

Sometimes in art a mistake can lead to something very beautiful.”

Still, Frei finds many positives in the relationship between art and goalkeeping. The creative work he does in his downtime provides a balance to the pressure of life in the net. “I think as a goalkeeper the odds are always stacked against you. Either you make the save, which most people are like ‘OK, you’re supposed to make the save,’ or you don’t and you screw up and you’re on your own. It’s a very difficult position mentally.” Frei said, “I think art kind of balances me out.”

It is difficult for Frei to completely escape the tendencies he has developed as a goalkeeper. He still thinks in terms of angles and precision. Even in his artwork, he demands a technically high level of execution. But, the pressure of a mistake is diminished. “I’m trying to keep everything very precise and make every decision concise,” Frei said, “But regardless, the stress or the danger that you make a mistake is not really there. Sometimes in art a mistake can lead to something very beautiful.”

Frei’s loves his job as a professional soccer player, and he wants to make sure that he also loves whatever he does after he retires one day. Art is a passion he pursues on the side, but it may perhaps become the core of what he does in the future. “I have been fortunate to do what I love to do. So, for me when I see people or hear people being frustrated with what they do, it’s hard for me to relate.” Frie said, “With that being said, I’m aware that exists, and I do not want to end up in that situation. Art has always been one of my biggest passions, and it makes me happy. I can see that being very fulfilling for me.”

That said, Frei is far from finished with the game. He had a fantastic season for Seattle last year and is consistently placed among the league’s best goalkeepers. He is clearly passionate about his work on the field and will continue performing and improving as a player for years to come. And, with a new studio at home and a growing number of projects, he will continue to find balance in his artwork. If that balance eventually grows into another chapter in his life, all the better.

You can follow Frei and see more of his artwork on Twitter and Instagram