Eric Okdeh thinks it’s important for mural-making to be inclusive.
The 2001 painting alumnus spent one year creating a large-scale painting project called “Contemplation, Clarity, Resilience” on Chestnut Street near 56th with help from an estimated 80 to 100 people from the Kirkbride Center, a behavioral health inpatient rehabilitation center. This painting has several patients’ portraits on it, and it symbolizes the process of acknowledging, accepting and overcoming hardship. The mural was completed in September 2016.
Okdeh has designed and participated in the making of more than 100 walls of mural art and mosaic in Pennsylvania, California, Hawaii, Arizona, Jordan and Spain.
He originally studied to be a studio painter, but said he has enjoyed working in communities more.
“I found working in communities and helping tell their stories is much more fulfilling for me,” Okdeh said.
Okdeh is currently working on a mural and mosaic project for St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in North Philadelphia with help from patients and their families.
The mural will feature children riding in two hot air balloons. He plans to have this done by the end of May, and it will be inside the hospital’s parking garage.
“With this, the hospital is the community we’ll be working in,” Okdeh said. “So we are connecting with their kids to develop this mural.”
Okdeh, who was born in Southwest Philadelphia, was first introduced to art in the seventh grade through figure painting. When he was a freshman at Temple in 1997, he met Mural Arts Philadelphia’s Founder and Executive Director Jane Golden, through his friend Jason Slowik, a 2003 art education alumnus.
That’s when Okdeh began his career.
“I’m picking up residencies and commissions in the different parts of world,” Okdeh said. “My experience with Mural Arts has allowed me to create this work and grow in the city and establish myself as a mural artist. And now I’ve been able to take that skill set and travel the world and paint murals and work with communities.”
The first mural he made was a series of designs at the Dell East Music Center in Fairmount Park near Strawberry Mansion in 1997, but the artwork has since been removed.
He has another ongoing mural project at 4th and Jefferson streets with North Philadelphia Health System, a local healthcare provider. The mural will express themes of trauma, life and recovery.
Okdeh started this mural the beginning of April, and he plans to finish by the end of July. He is currently hosting workshops with North Philadelphia residents in rehabilitation or recovery or those who have mental health needs. These meetings will help Okdeh design a wall that tells their stories, he said.
“People can be part of the process, but at the same time, the themes of these murals can be very personal stories,” Okdeh said. “In order to tell those stories, we need to connect with people, and give them a voice. … I really enjoyed the ability to tell those stories.”
Slowik said Okdeh has “unrivaled ambition” as a muralist.
“[His ambition] gives all efforts a very solid foundation, ensuring success … in order to not only create great art, but more importantly to create a lasting and meaningful impact on the lives of the people and communities he encounters,” Slowik wrote in an email.
Okdeh recently started focusing more on his glass career. He creates stained-glass windows, and he plans to sell them on his website within the next couple of years to people who want to decorate their homes.
“That’s what kind of interests me right now, but I always see mural-making in my life,” Okdeh said. “You start to think about wanting to work with other materials. A lot of artists are looking for three-dimensional works, so you start to think about your design aesthetic and how that translate to other materials.”
“As long as there’s a program in Philly, I’d love to be part of it.”
Bilin Lin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.