The tallest mural in the District was painted by a man with a fear of heights.
Aniekan Udofia flashed a quick smile and a peace sign as a cherry picker hoisted him 80 feet above 15th Street NW recently — higher than he has ever gone to create one of his distinctive murals.
“I just don’t really focus on the height because this is what I signed up for. The work has to get done,” said Udofia, 39.
The work is converting a concrete wall into a vibrant piece of art, as the D.C. native has done more than 20 times since moving back to the city from Nigeria 15 years ago.
Just diagonal to this wall is his “Gagged Washington” mural, and about a mile east is the popular Marvin Gaye mural.
“It’s overwhelming when you see a wall that size. It’s not something you can really explain,” Udofia said.
His newest piece, on the side of an apartment building at 2001 15th St. NW, is scheduled to be dedicated Monday as part of the MuralsDC project, a partnership among the Department of Public Works, the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and Words Beats & Life.
Since 2008, MuralsDC has hired artists to paint more than 50 murals across the city as a way to revitalize communities and deter illegal graffiti. Property owners apply to have a mural painted on their building, and then MuralsDC seeks an artist who meets the owner’s vision.
Udofia’s latest is on a building with mostly senior tenants. MuralsDC sought to make these residents a focal point of the piece, project coordinator Nancee Lyons said.
“The goal of this wall is to speak to the seniors in our community. D.C. is listed as being one of the leading cities for millennials, but in all this talk about attracting millennials, many feel we are indirectly sending the message that older residents have no value,” Lyons said.
The project team decided that the best way to depict this idea is to show a connection between older residents and technology, Lyons explained.
This focus on older residents played out beneath Udofia as he tackled the project in the U Street corridor.
Bracing against strong winds, Udofia set out to illustrate the vitality of those seniors.
The hardest part of his job, Udofia said, isn’t being out in the elements. It is turning his client’s general concepts into a visual story of the community.
For the latest mural, Udofia came up with about 15 thumbnail sketches that he winnowed to three to present to the property owner.
The final selection shows two seniors holding a tablet and smiling. Behind them is a collage of images meant to represent the digital world.
He initially intended to trace the mural outline using a projector but ultimately did a freehand sketch across the large surface instead.
The week-long painting process was one of the most physically taxing he has done, Udofia said.
Despite the challenges, he said, the experience of painting in front of the public is special.
“When you’re painting at home, you’re not subject to instant critique or distraction. Part of the process is being able to communicate with people.”
The difference in being outside, on full display, he said, “is vulnerability.”