Street art a purrfect addition to historic Strang Building

Artist SwiftMantis has created a hyper-realistic feline artwork on Invercargill’s historic Strang Building as part of the 2022 South Sea Spray Exhibition, winning the event’s People Choice Award for their efforts.

A large painting of a cat emerges from the side of a heritage building beneath a grey sky.
The Strang Building cat artwork part way through the creative process.expand/collapse

In September 2022, the Waihemo Southern Sea Spray Festival curator and director, Deow, announced that Invercargill would be welcoming 22 of New Zealand’s foremost street artists for the largest street art festival in the southern hemisphere.

One of the buildings selected as a canvas was the category 2 David Strang Ltd Building. This three-story building at 100 Esk Street was built in 1912 for Invercargill’s successful coffee and spice merchant David Strang. Strang, who moved to New Zealand from Glasgow in 1863, patented ‘Strang’s Patent Soluble Dry Coffee-powder’ in 1890. This powder seems to have been the first commercially available instant coffee in the world. In 1966, the building at 100 Esk Street became the home of the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA), a role which continues to this day.

The blank western wall of the Strang building was an ideal canvas for street art but being a heritage building the proposal needed resource consent from Invercargill City Council. Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga were also consulted and provided their support to the activity.

Acting Area Manager for Otago/Southland, Sarah Gallagher says that they needed to ensure the proposal met the balance of retaining heritage values and meeting the needs of the owners and community.

“Our heritage buildings are a finite resource, but they are also living monuments – not just monuments to the past. Incorporating artistic expression into the ongoing stories of these places is a way our communities can continue to connect with their history”.

Visitors to Esk Street, Invercargill, will now experience the supersized calm gaze of a local ginger cat, created by SwiftMantis – an artist from Manawatū, who specialises in animal-realism portraiture. ‘Horace the cat’ is a depiction of a rescue cat that was once owned by Southland Education’s manager, the current owners of the building.

Horace's gaze appears to have caught the eyes of locals, who voted the artwork as the winner in the festival’s People’s Choice Award category.

Rosemary Baird