Artist’s return to Hibbing leaves lasting impression

Hibbing native Michael Mathews uses acrylic paint to add spectators in the Minnesota Twins Mural he’s painting at 421 Game Room in downtown Hibbing. Mathews is a portrait-sketch-artist-turned-muralist who likes to travel around the country.

Michael Mathews describes himself as a hobo. “I like to travel around,” he said after a long day’s work at 421 Game Room located adjacent to Mike’s Pub in downtown Hibbing. Mathews, a Hibbing native, breezed into town a few months ago and decided to stay for the summer. “I had planned to go to Alaska for the summer,” he confessed, adding, “I heard there are a lot of opportunities for work and to make some money over the summer months up there, but I decided to stay in Hibbing and try to make it as an artist.”

“It’s doable,” Mathews admits. He’s on the home stretch of finishing painting a second mural in at 421 Game Room. The mural is a home-plate field view of the new Twins Stadium. Earlier this week, Mathews painted the structure of the stadium and started populating it with fans dressed in the official team colors of red, white, and blue. Mathews has been putting in steady eight-hour days and plans to add players to the field before Saturday’s street dance. “I started making lines in the grass today,” Mathews said, “and then I’ll add the dirt and the players.”

Using true artistic license, die-hard Twins fans won’t find Jose Berrios, Brian Dozier, or even Joe Mauer on the field. Instead, they’ll be more likely to find players like Kent Hrbek, Chuck Knoblauch, and Kirby Puckett, as Mathews plans to paint the last play of the 1991 World Series. “It was the most glorious Twins moment. I remember it from when I was a kid and it really takes me back,” Mathews said. “I hope it happens again.”

The Twins mural is the second large-scale painting Mathews has ever completed. The first is on the opposite wall. “It’s a reproduction of the dogs playing pool,” Mathews explained. He finished it about three weeks ago and said it took him about a week to complete.

“I had been kind of hanging out here in the bar doing portraits,” Mathews explained. “I think maybe the word spread from one of the bartenders to Mike [Egan, pub owner] and he asked me if I wanted to do a mural, so I thought I’d give it a try.”

Mathews has a technology background and said he’s an experienced digital artist who’s not afraid of experimenting with new art mediums. “There’s quite a bit of cross over working with graphic arts on the computer,” Mathews said. “I took two semesters of painting back in high school and I watched a lot of YouTube videos before starting these paintings. You can learn anything on YouTube.”

As is the case for any art and with any artist, finding the differentiating line between when to be done and when to push the art further is the hardest to define, and Mathews has come a long way. “I remember there was this girl in one of my painting classes in high school,” Mathews recalled. “She’d always say to me, ‘Quit messing with your painting because you keep ruining them,’” Mathews chuckled, admitting that he’s usually never satisfied with his work. But when he speaks of the murals, he said that he is very pleased with the results. “I do like them, and I’m very proud of them. When I walk away and glance back at what I’ve created, I smile.”

Egan is equally satisfied with the work, “I’m really impressed with his work and commitment to details,” he said. “We started out with the dogs playing pool and it turned into ‘What can we paint next?’” Ultimately, he decided to create a sports theme. There are plans in the works for Mathews to paint Minnesota Wild’s home ice at the Excel Center and to feature the home turf of the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium.

“He’s also working on a Hibbing design that will have a variety of local highlights,” Egan teased.

The 421 Game Room is open daily from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. and Egan said that individuals under 21 are allowed to be there until 10 p.m. daily. For the most part, Mathews has been working in a pretty quiet environment. “The regulars come in to check it out,” Matthews said.

With no real definitive plans for the distant future, Mathews isn’t sure how long he’ll stick in town on this leg of his journey, but he knows he’ll be around for a while. “Next up, I’m going to be painting a bunch of Marvel Superheroes on the walls of a little boy’s room. That should be different and fun,” he said. He’s also considering doing live paintings at street dances in downtown Chisholm, but hasn’t fully decided on that yet.

Mathews chronicles all of his creative pursuits on his artist’s facebook page—Mic Jon Mat. Online, you’ll find pictures of the murals in progress as well as Mathew’s other creative pursuits. Most recently, he was on a book tour through the southwest promoting his self-published book, “Otternot.” He describes it as sort of a “Gulliver's Travels” tale of an alien otter on earth. He helped finance the book tour by generating money kicking hacky sack as a street performer along the way. “I trained for months,” he recalled. “Vegas was the big show.” He set up to perform at the famous Fremont Experience but was kicked out. “The hacky sack is considered a projectile, so it was a little disappointing,” Mathews said.

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