SEATTLE — Thousands of screaming, flag-waving, singing fans see Stefan Frei's work on the field. You may even spot him strolling around town with his Great Dane and Shar-Pei. But now, he's about to let the world see what he's been working on behind closed doors in his Queen Anne Studio.
"It started very innocently. Just doodling with friends when you probably should be paying attention to what the teacher is saying and you're goofing around," the Sounders Goalkeeper says, surrounded by his art.
As a kid, he used to ride the train to practice in Switzerland. "I would always peer out the windows and overpasses and see the graffiti. And it was always such a pop of color and kind of spoke to me."
As his playing career took off, his childhood doodling remained dormant. "It became more of an outlet, a balance thing from the pressures of being a goalkeeper."
He continued to paint and draw, on paper and on his computer, whenever he could find the time. He's the only player on the team allowed to use his hands. But he's pretty good when his hands are holding a brush too. In recent months, he decided it was time to share his creations. "It's a bit of a scary thing getting into the art world."
Entirely self-taught, he starts with some random drips. "The underpainting is just really trying to get as far away from me controlling as possible. Surrender that goalkeeper and just kind of throw some paint on. Let it drip, do its thing."
After a couple of layers, he taps into what he calls his goalie side, adding geometric shapes and lines and more color...clean, angular, perfect. "As a goalkeeper, things are a bit more definite. If you let in a lot of goals, chances are you're not the best goalkeeper. There is no room for error."
But he allows for ambivalence, even embraces the random quality of the underpainting. "I make errors in my paintings and I actually learn something new. A new technique or something beautiful comes out of it. So I think there's a bit of a balance there that I really enjoy."
He describes his style using math. "Geometric Abstraction. But I would almost call it Geometric Subtraction? Maybe going to my own niche." He says the whites he adds "subtract" from the rich colors underneath. "Someone described it once to me that it's like a shattered glass. You're looking through a shattered glass. And I kind of like that."
Teammates are all in. "I don't think there's a day that goes by without someone on the team saying, 'When can I get my piece? When can you make one for me?'"
And just like a keeper deflects the ball for a living, he's ready to take on all comers. "I know there will be people who love my art. Other people that say it's garbage. I'm ready for that. It's cool. I'm expressing myself and having fun doing it."
Stefan recently designed the team's debit card for Washington Federal Bank.