Matty Hillman is a resident of Pass Creek, just east of Castlegar, and an instructor at Selkirk College, specializing in Human Services, Child and Youth Care. When he’s not teaching he’s a talented muralist who goes by the name Matty Kakes and is “especially interested in the intersection of youth work and public art — exploring the opportunity these complimentary practices create for empowerment, community building and social justice advancements.” He also loves phat sneakers.

In the last few years Matty has been changing the face of Castlegar one wall at a time with colourful artwork that is as eye-catching as it is poignant. We caught up with him as part of our monthly series that celebrates and showcases local artists.

Above: “Liverbird” at Chef’s Choice eatery in Castlegar. Top: Through the Look Glass, Frog Peak Café

Hey Matty. You live just outside of Castlegar right? How long have you been in the Kootenays? ​

I live with my family on Pass Creek Rd. About five minutes from CVB (Crescent Valley Beach). You can’t miss our place – it’s the one with a few massive mural walls facing the road! I’ve been in the Kootenays for 15 years or so.

What’s your favourite part about living in the region?

It’s where I met and started my family. Also, we’re blessed with space out here. Castlegar particularly feels burgeoning, especially mural wise.

“Butterfly Bluffs” in Castlegar

How’d you get started in mural work?

Through youth work, really, which I got into through skateboarding. I’ve always been into drawing and using stencils but I participated in a few organized youth mural projects that were really formative. I now enjoy mentoring youth artists.

What are your favourite type of subjects to illustrate?

Local imagery but also surreal and cartoony stuff. I’ll paint anything, really. I tend to get political in the work I do on my own property – social justice messages and socio-political commentary.

“The Air Is Clear Up Here” on the ARC building in Castlegar.

You did a mural on the ARC building with paint that helps purify the air. Tell us more about the process?

It was an interesting and challenging project. Airlite is the paint and it’s manufactured in Italy. It was quite the process to contact the company, communicate, plan and ship the products out here. It’s also a bit complex to use. You have to mix a pigment with a base and then the paint only has about a 2 hour window to be applied. So that was always a little worrisome – it’s not like I could have just popped down Columbia Ave. for more burnt umber if I ran out!

The paint has a super low carbon footprint and it absorbs CO2 and NOx, just like trees do! I had read about a few murals in Europe that have been done with this product, but to my knowledge the one on the ARC building in Castlegar is Canada’s first. Shout out to local support, both financial and labour.

Matty and “Dream On” at his property in Pass Creek.

What do you do when you’re not painting?

I’m an instructor at Selkirk College and a community mental health educator. Half my year is pretty dedicated to academics and the other half is my painting season. I’ve managed to interweave the two aspects of myself on a few occasions such as organizing a Selkirk student mural some years back. I also published an academic article on the use of street art in youth work. Besides that, I’m generally at home with my family. In the garden, or sauna – depending on the season. I’ve been known to collect a pair of sneakers or two.

“Neon Gods,” Pass Creek.

What’s your advice to kids wanting to get into painting murals?

Try to get a project going at your school, youth centre or community complex. Find some allies with some experience. Include others. Think about your message. Have fun – process over product.

Where can we learn more about your work?

My website or Instagram @mattykakez is a good place to start. I have an article coming out in the spring ARTiculate magazine. Stop by the wall if you ever see me painting – I’m always down to chat.