Art of Futbol gallery showcases the beauty of the game

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USA star Clint Dempsey by Martin Jon Garcia

Soccer, the world's biggest sport, is constantly going on around us. Kids are always kicking a ball in a park somewhere both in the city and suburbs, from the fields of Buffalo Grove to the slums of Brazil. More than just the ball, there is a passion.

Every time one season ends, another begins. Soccer's big leagues in Europe have concluded their schedule just as Major League Soccer begins in America. Meanwhile, batty enthusiasts of the "beautiful game" - as Pelé called it - keep the conversation going year-round in unexpected ways.

Martin Jon Garcia is a painter and lifelong soccer fan that grew up in Chicago's North Center neighborhood. Besides attending Chicago Fire matches and even slumming it to The Globe for very early morning broadcasts of English and Spanish games, he expresses his love for the game through art.

"I am a huge fan of soccer and art independently, and my goal isn't about trying to pay tribute to the player or any star so much. It is always about the passion and excitement of the game," said Garcia.

Garcia and about 20 other artists participated in last month's Art of Futbol, an exhibition put together by the Chicago Fire Soccer Club and Arte y Vida Chicago. The goal of the annual show, now in its second year, is to display original work from Chicagoland artists that celebrate love and passion for soccer and the soccer community.

Dan Gargan, a defensive player for the Chicago Fire, who minored in art history in college, hosted the exhibition for the Fire while also showcasing his own painting.

"As a kid I was always good at coloring between the lines," Gargan said, jokingly. "But art became something I was really into and my parents said go with it."

Gargan concentrated his studies on business administration at Georgetown and said that taking art classes and not only complimented his studies but painting and drawing also became a part of his life.

"It's a great way to pass the time but also gives you a release, especially with tough practices and playing soccer at the top level."

The subject of sports in fine arts and literature is nothing new. Hemingway wrote about boxing and bullfighting in his early years as a journalist. Andy Warhol painted the images of Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and tennis great Chris Evert, among others. Picasso, a Spaniard, dabbled with soccer, the national sport, in his sketches and paintings.

In America, an institution is devoted to the art of sports. The National Art Museum of Sport is just a short drive from Chicago and, situated in downtown Indianapolis, NOMAS is owned and curated by IUPUI, Indiana University/Purdue University in Indianapolis.

Garcia thinks that the Fire should get more credit pushing the arts. He also notes that the club gets it when it comes to tapping into to what it is that interests fans, especially kids.

"I love being connected with the Fire because they're serious about getting youth into the game," Garcia said. "The Fire Foundation realizes that kids have interests of different kinds, and by pushing the arts forward they can connect with people on another level."

Moreover, the love of sport may go hand in hand with the passion and dedication. As Garcia puts it, "I use my painting to express the emotion of each moment and the story that happens every day in the game."