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Artists in Residence: Valin Mattheis at HI San Francisco City Center Hostel

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From National Park land to downtown streetscapes, hillside perches to coastal lighthouses, HI USA hostels are located in some of the most beautiful settings Northern California has to offer. So perhaps it’s not surprising that so many staff members across our hostel network are talented (and prolific) artists: they’ve got a lot of inspiration to work with! And now they’re sharing they’re inspiration with you in our interview series, “Artists in Residence.” This edition: Valin Mattheis, Guest Services Associate at HI San Francisco City Center hostel and creator of dark and moody ink other-worlds. 

valin mattheis san francisco artist

If you’ve hung out on the mezzanine level at HI San Francisco City Center, you might have noticed the paintings featuring inky black apparitions and dream-like scenes. These are the creations from the mind of Valin Mattheis, who’s been crafting his art since he was a kid.  

“I’ve always done some kind of mindless sketching, for as long as I can remember,” he says of his beginnings. “I don’t have any formal background in art, I never went to school, I’ve never taken an art class, just ceaseless pencil on paper and experimentation brings us up to now.” 

Today, Valin primarily uses black ink and gold leaf to draw the skeletons in monastic garb and lurching monsters in the woods that characterize his work, and though the work seems dark and sinister, he hopes people who see his creations see beyond the ghouls. Head to strange-gods.tumblr.com to discover more and see what these sullen dreamscapes make you feel.     

Do you remember the first thing you created? 

I remember a time in kindergarten being sent to speak with some kind of school official because I wouldn’t stop drawing skulls. The drawings were terrible, it was skull-like maybe, but I don’t see what the fuss was about. I always wanted to be able to draw horrific things, monsters and bones and fire at night, screaming ghosts in hollow trees, but I could never translate the mental image into something on the page. 

So what are your creations now usually about? Do they have a meaning or story behind them? 

There’s definitely an overarching story, but I wouldn’t try to pin it down. I often try to convey some sense of quasi-religious awe and a little bit of the wonder-mingled-with-fear sensation that I feel in regards to things like time and death. There is also a lot of mythology and folklore in there: just a fairly wide-cast web of symbolism and reference that I don’t think anyone picks up. 

    hi san francisco city center hostel art 

Have people commented on the work that you have up at HI SF City Center? 

Oh yes. I’ve sold work to guests, I’ve painted with people through graveyard shifts, and I often hear from people about the artwork who don’t know that it’s mine. It’s interesting to hear those especially. Different people from different places will grasp onto disparate elements as being the most important.  If someone is from the place that spawned the particular myth or folktale that inspired something, they might identify it. It’s always interesting to hear how people relate to something I’ve painted, and at the hostel I get to hear a lot of that.

Has working at this hostel influenced you in any way?

In some ways my process is tied to the hostel. I’ve done some of my favorite work in the building because I paint a lot here during graveyard shift down time. None of my work portrays any kind of urban environment or sentiment, so the building hasn’t influenced me in any way that is directly expressed, but the nature of the hostel, the location of HI SF City Center, and the job itself all offer me a field in which to explore a certain side of myself and others. I would say it’s an indirect influence, but certainly a gravid field for development and exploration.

valin mattheis artist

What are you working on next? 

I’m in the midst of a long project which will eventually be turned into a book of some kind. It’ll be quite some time before it sees anything like completion: it’ll be many a night’s work. I’m also getting some prints made, by popular demand, and offering them for sale, and that’s a whole other side of art work that I have never bothered with, but it’s interesting now to come to grips with.

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HI USA Tip: Discover more of our Artists in Residence, Jeff Parry of HI Pigeon Point Lighthouse, Chris Bauman of HI Point Montara Light House, and Lacey Bediz of HI Point Reyes. Don’t forget to check out more from HI SF City Center on Facebook and Instagram