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A Behind-The-Scenes Look at The Story of Us: The Office's Relationship with Scranton
Muralist Kala Hagopian explains how our The Office-themed mural is coming to life.
As part of Scranton Tomorrow’s Mural Arts Program, The Story of Us: The Office’s relationship with Scranton mural will soon be installed at 503 Lackawanna Avenue in Downtown Scranton, and we’re as excited as Stanley on Pretzel Day! In August, muralist Kala Hagopian and the team from Hagopian Arts will bring the 86’ x 27’ public artwork featuring 17 Dunder Mifflin characters to life. We recently caught up with the artist to talk about her process, inspiration, and, of course, all things Dunder Miffin.
What intrigued you about creating a piece that pays tribute to the characters of Dunder Mifflin?
This project reflects my signature style — the juxtaposition of realism with elements of patterning. The Office mural features highly-rendered, realistic black-and-white portraits of the 17 characters and vivid geometric artistry with memorable quotes and a handful of recurring landmarks. I was eager to take on the challenge of capturing the show in one, unique public art piece. Portrait painting is a love of mine and this has been a great opportunity to capture the uniqueness of each character with a fine art aesthetic. Each illustration in the background rectangles was carefully considered to symbolize the many hilarious and noteworthy themes and moments of the show. The recognizable Electric City sign is another main focal point of the mural, providing strong visual affinity to the show’s hometown of Scranton.
The way The Office brilliantly depicts regular people doing regular things, and the discovery process of finding humor, purpose, and beauty in a seemingly mediocre life was a source of inspiration for this mural’s design. The show’s enduring popularity is a testament to the people of Scranton as well as to many office workers across America. A celebratory mural is the ideal artistic platform to uphold and document this legacy. As Dunder Mifflin’s very own receptionist-turned-artist, Pam Halpert, superlatively says in the series finale while reflecting on her mural and the faux-documentary as a whole, “Beauty in ordinary things — isn’t that kind of the point?”
Can you share an overview of your process?
The majority of our murals are painted off-site on a synthetic material called parachute cloth. The cloth is divided into pieces, painted, and installed in sections to create the finished image. We then meticulously touch up the seams to create a flawless finished piece.
After a mural is brought to completion in our studio, it is permanently installed on a wall with a super strong adhesive gel that dries clear and takes on the texture of the surface on which it is installed. Touch-ups are done on the wall and the mural is sealed with a UV protectant sealer. Painting public artwork in this method ensures that murals look brand new for decades. This process makes it possible to paint all year around in my studio and allows me to capture all of the details signature to my style. Using this method also facilitates easy and safe community engagement.
How long have you been working on this piece?
The Office mural has been roughly a year-long project, the majority of which has taken place in my West Philly art studio. The installation will take a fraction of the time, a few weeks compared to the many months spent painting the mural in sections in my studio.
Does a project like this require support from additional artists?
I have had the help of a handful of assistants on this project. Most of them worked on the colorful patterning that makes up the mural behind the figures as well as the Electric City sign. Helen Harvey has been incredible in her work on this aspect of the project! Noel Yheaulon and Garrett Cook have helped in rendering the figures.
What’s the greatest challenge you’ve overcome with this project so far?
It’s been very important to make sure we capture the likeness of all the characters, rendering the black-and-white portraits with a fine art aesthetic. It’s also been integral that the geometric patterning and the Electric City sign are painted with precision and accuracy.
What kind of research did you do in the preliminary stages of the project?
The design phase took a lot of consideration and research! While playing the show in my studio I worked with one of my assistants, Jasmine Kelly (a pretty die-hard fan) to create a document containing all of the characters, their notable attributes and quotes, along with the many memorable moments and scenes to inform the design. Each Illustration (created with the help of Luz Jubilee) or quote within the geometric pattern was carefully considered to symbolize hilarious and noteworthy themes and moments from the show.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
This project has been all-encompassing! I am so thankful to all the folks who have helped me throughout the mural-making process. As this project wraps up (in-studio painting will be completed by the end of July and mural installation will begin in August), Hagopian Arts has worked tirelessly to bring this project to fruition, rendering each element to the very best of our artistic ability!
I also have to mention my 7-year-old son. He is here with me through it all and has been since he was a baby. Many hours were spent painting with him as a little one on my back, and now he is often by my side in the art studio.
About Hagopian Arts
Hagopian Arts is an independent, female-owned and operated public art initiative based out of West Philadelphia. Founded by Kala Hagopian, Hagopian Arts specializes in luminous murals inspired by nature. A working artist in Philadelphia since 2005, Kala received her Certificate from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2009 and began painting murals in 2012. After building a substantial portfolio of public art projects, Hagopian Arts began the Eco Mural Project in 2018, a series of street-level murals aimed at raising environmental awareness by introducing depictions of at-risk ecosystems into urban spaces. As of 2023, The Eco Mural Project has grown to fifteen murals! Hagopian Arts produces “fine-art murals,” specializing in realism interspersed with bright patterns and atmosphere. They have a great deal of working experience across a large range of clients, including nonprofits, community organizations, corporate developers, small businesses, and personal residences.
Special thanks to Kala Hagopian for taking time out of her busy day of painting to give us an inside look into this project. We can’t wait to see this piece come to life in August! To learn more about Hagopian Arts, visit www.hagopianarts.com. To learn more about Scranton Tomorrow’s Mural Arts Program, visit www.scrantontomorrow.org/muralart and be sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram.
Featured Image (top) — Kala Hagopian, fine arts muralist and founder of Hagopian Arts. Photo: Hagopian Arts.