- USWNT superstar Tobin Heath is an acclaimed artist in addition to her soccer exploits.
- She never intended to share her work, but Heath recently began to open up her art to the public.
- Heath spoke to Insider about purposeful creation for re-inc and how she reconciles art with soccer.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Artistry and athleticism are often viewed as incongruous forces.
But in rare instances, they combine to form something brilliant, and that’s plain to see when Tobin Heath plays soccer.
“My interest in life and creating go to the core of who I am,” Heath told Insider. “I see football as an art. I see how I use my body to perform skills that I want to do on the field. And I’ve always viewed sport that way.”
“That’s the way that I want to be seen as an athlete – as an artist on the field.”
Heath can generate offensive opportunities seemingly out of thin air with a combination of superior field vision and unparalleled ingenuity at her disposal. And even though she’s scored plenty of goals during her US Women’s National Team tenure, she’s been most instrumental to the USWNT’s continued success through to her ability to open up the pitch and churn out assists.
In other words, Heath is a creator – whether she has the ball at her feet or a paintbrush in her hand.
-U.S. Soccer WNT (@USWNT) July 27, 2018
She may be best known as one of the top athletes in the world, but Heath is also an artist away from the soccer pitch – and she’s a damn good one, too. Her paintings, which have only recently seen the light of day, have sold for tens of thousands of dollars apiece.
Heath has long kept her art private despite her obvious talent. But with a greater purpose now fueling her, the 33-year-old has finally opted to bring her artwork into the limelight.
“I am very conscious about what I do put out into the world and the things that I say and that I create and I share,” she said, “because I always want to be thoughtful in the things that I’m doing – both with my life and the things that I’m saying.”
Art has always been a refuge for Heath, an introvert in the public eye since her teens
A generational soccer talent, Heath found herself thrust into the spotlight from a very young age. As early as 2003 – when she was 15 years old – the Morristown, New Jersey, native was representing the United States abroad through US youth national teams. Three years later, she was an instant standout at the college level when she joined ranks with the perennial heavyweight North Carolina Tar Heels.
Heath made her first appearance for the senior USWNT at just 19, and she became the youngest player named to the United States’ 2008 Olympics roster shortly after turning 20. Two Olympic gold medals, two World Cup victories, four USWNT coaches, and 169 caps later, Heath has cemented herself as a bona fide icon for one of the world’s most dominant and revered teams.
But fame has come at a cost; privacy is scarce when you achieve legend status.
“I feel like the whole world is in this shareable phase, like I have to be seen doing everything,” Heath said. “Everybody has to share my every word, and I’ve never been a person that believed that at all because so much about what we put forth isn’t even honest or true.”
Finding a means of expressing herself within “this overshare society,” as she calls it, has been crucial for Heath. Art has always been her solution.
As a deeply introspective and quiet person by nature, Heath has unsurprisingly chosen to keep her art private for most of her life. But that all changed upon her realization – with a bit of help – that she could share her projects in an “intentional … and meaningful” way.
At Christen Press’ urging, Heath decided to open up her art to the public via re-inc
In 2019, Heath joined forces with fellow USWNT stars Megan Rapinoe, Meghan Klingenberg, and Press to start re-inc – a gender-neutral fashion and lifestyle brand. And it was during a conversation with Press, the company’s CEO, that Heath came to realize she could have the most impact as re-inc’s creative director if she used her art “to bring these collections and stories to life.”
“I really wasn’t planning on sharing it,” Heath said. “But Christen, our CEO, was like, ‘You should share this with the community. This is obviously part of your process – you creating.’ And I was really hesitant about it, honestly, because it wasn’t something that was ever intended to be seen.”
Eventually, Heath overcame that initial trepidation and heeded Press’ advice, setting to work on her first official pieces for the brand. She created a three-painting series of the words Liberté, Egalité, and Défendez – French for Liberty, Equality, and Defend – that represented Heath’s “reinterpretation of what our launch story meant to me,” per the re-inc website.
It took a lot for Heath to let go and publicize her work. But she was certainly encouraged by the outpouring of support once she did.
“We got such a great and positive and cool response from the first one,” she said, “that we decided to continue it and make it like a very big part of the beginning of our collection.”
Re-inc has given Heath a platform upon which to share her art for a greater purpose
Since that first collection went live late in 2019, the superstar striker has grown accustomed to sharing her work away from the field. Each time re-inc introduces a new seasonal collection, Heath produces an accompanying piece aimed at “grappling with a lot of things that are hard about our society.”
Her most recent piece – titled “ADA” – complements the Spring 2021 “Gamer” collection. Heath uses binary throughout the black and green painting to symbolize a “structured society limited to these two numbers.” But eventually, she shatters the monotony by cleverly “breaking the binary with a seven.”
“It’s an industry that I felt mirrored the sport industry in a lot of ways,” Heath said. “And how women have been treated in a specific way within that industry that creates a lot of gender norms that are very disturbing and destructive to our society.”
“[Re-inc’s collections are] about a lot of things that are rooted in pain and frustration, and the art honestly is part of that process,” she added. “When I start creating for the story, it’s really hard, honestly. And I think a lot of times I become really, really frustrated within the confines of the story that I’m trying to tell. All of the art that I’ve created from re-inc is an expression of that in a certain form.”
But the payoff is more than worth it. Not only does Heath experience what she described as “liberation” every time she completes a piece, but she’s also able to channel her artistic energy into something bigger than herself. The company auctions off each of her works through its site and donates 17% of proceeds, a reference to Heath’s USWNT jersey number, to a nonprofit related to the collection’s theme.
“I always feel like it’s such an honor to bring the next collection and idea to life,” Heath said.
Her pieces – she’s now created six in total – have sold for tens of thousands of dollars apiece, contributing to the $70,000 re-inc has donated to 13 different organizations.
For Heath, art and sport are more interconnected than meets the eye
Heath isn’t always the best with words. And for most of her career, she has been more than happy to let her play do the talking.
But any time the USWNT virtuoso finds herself away from the pitch – between training sessions and games, during the offseason, or worst: when injured – she relies on “being able to have a creative outlet” via her art.
“I find football and art to be very much cut from the same cloth, which is how I see the world and how I interpret it and then how I express it,” Heath said. “I don’t communicate with words as well as I do with being able to create both as an athlete and the things that I create off the field.”
And that sentiment has only intensified over this past year, as multiple injuries – first to her ankle and later, during rehab, to her knee – have kept Heath away from the pitch and robbed her of a full season with her club, Manchester United.
“I got more serious about art in the times that I wasn’t able to play and in my injuries,” Heath said. “I feel a little more sedentary when I’m not being able to be on the field and use my body and feeling a little stifled in that way.”
Those recent injuries have lingered, and the longer they’ve stuck around, the more they’ve threatened her chances of making the USWNT’s roster for this summer’s Olympics. And while it’d undoubtedly be painful for Heath to miss out on a third gold medal in Tokyo, her work has never actually been motivated by the final outcome – in soccer or in art.
For Heath, it’s not about the trophy or the masterpiece, the accolades or the appraisal; it’s about the journey it takes to get there – the creative process itself.
“What’s so beautiful about art is that there is a joy in it, and there’s this surrender in it,” Heath said. “Somebody always told me success isn’t winning, success is trying… It’s not what did you do, but did you try. I feel like that was a big part of the art.”
“I don’t have a fear of trying, and I don’t have a fear of failing,” she added. “So I just do, and that’s part of the creating.”