Eclipsed by new development: massive downtown Halifax mural to vanish from public view

A well-known piece of public art in downtown Halifax will soon vanish from public view, eclipsed by a new development, but the artist who painted it says that's simply the nature of the work.

The massive, surrealistic mural depicting an octopus and a blue heron battling over a fish, covers most of the exposed side of Freak Lunchbox, a popular retro candy store on Barrington Street.

It was painted in the fall of 2015 by Montreal-based artist Jason Botkin, who admits he initially took some heat over the mural, but it was one of the most interesting and significant projects of his career.

"I arrived to Halifax amidst a storm of controversy surrounding the project," Botkin told CTV News from Chilliwack, B.C., where he's working on another mural.

"I received some of the most negative criticism by people passing by, constantly over the first couple of days, and then that switched to a type of feedback that was some of the most effusively positive I've ever received for any project," he said.

Approved by regional council in late December, work is underway next door on a new nine-storey development that will swallow up two heritage buildings on Granville street, keeping only the facades.

The project will also butt up against the Freak Lunchbox store, covering the mural from view.

In an effort to save the piece, which cost $12,000, the store owner has explored a number of possibilities in recent months, but none have been easy, feasible or cost-effective.

"We've explored and kind of exasperated a lot of different options", Freak Lunchbox marketing manager Leighton Bearchell told CTV News.

The options included dismantling and moving the piece, which is painted on sheets of plywood.

"There's a lot of buildings, based on the fire regulations, you can't have wood on the outside of the building, and a number of different things like that," he said, adding the sheer size of the painting makes a move prohibitive.

In the end, they decided to simply leave it as is.

"It is definitely sad to see it being covered up, essentially, but also, the glass half-full approach to that is it'll be nice to have something down here, a new, pretty development," said Bearchell.

Botkin says public art like the kind he creates, always has a limited shelf life.

"The work that I do doesn't always live that long," he said. "Sometimes it lives for a couple of weeks. In this case, it lived for a number of years. I'm proud of the work, but if the work disappears because life goes on, then that's what it is, and I think that's really fundamentally part of what I do."

Excavation of the site is expected to begin this September, and the development is expected to be complete by October of 2023.