Mosaics are striking and beautiful, bringing together hundreds of tiny, gleaming shards of tile into one cohesive yet intricate artwork. Each piece has a part to play, delicately and thoughtfully placed.

In Bundaberg, mosaics are popping up from place to place, due in large part to artist Paul Perry. His own work is found throughout Bargara Headland Estate at Innes Park, but his true passion is the community projects where large-scale mosaic artworks have been used at places such as Community Lifestyle Support in Ashfield and public amenities blocks at Archies Beach, Bargara.

How Paul became a mosaic artist is an interesting tale. He didn’t turn his hand to art until he was 53. And he didn’t start out with a passion for mosaics.

“I worked in local government in South Australia for 26 years, and while I always had an interest in art, and was formally trained as a draftsman, I didn’t really do any art as I was just too busy with work,” he said.

“My wife is a counsellor, and she had some clients at home and sent me out of the house to the back shed. I had all sorts of stuff out there. So I just started trying to get the frustrations of work out and started painting. It was therapy to me. Then I started to actually create things that I thought were not too bad so I decided to do some training with a ‘paint by numbers’ course, but it got me really excited that there was something there. So I left work and went and did a Bachelor of Visual Arts at 53.”

Paul and his wife Faye moved to Bundaberg in 2014 to be closer to their children and grandchildren. As a formally-trained draftsman, painter and sculptor he set out to leave his mark on his new community.

“Because I’d worked in local government for so long, I had a really strong understanding of the power of art, particularly community art as a community development tool, and the real power art has to lift the spirits and get people involved,” he said.

Paul started off painting murals, including one at St Joseph’s Catholic School in Childers, and The Point at Bargara. And then started painting the electrical boxes around Bargara.

“People started saying to me that the works were not going to last very long, with the paint fading after about five years. So I started looking for a medium that I could use in a public space that was going to outlast me,” he said.

Mosaics piqued his interest and after some classes and tutorials Paul decided to give it a ‘crack’.

“I started with a ‘training’ exercise to learn how different cuts, different styles, different laying patents, different things I had read about actually apply and I did it through a series of 26 panels of all the graffiti tags that I could find around Bundaberg,” he said.

“At the end of it I thought I’ve actually got an exhibition here. So in 2018 we did an exhibition of the tags, called ‘Flushed Out’ in a toilet block. It was also a way of trying to engage with the community about doing something around the toilet block at Archies Beach.

“I started talking to the community, and had open days then ran some workshops. Then we started making some little panels. Then we started making turtles which started to appear on the beach along the coastline as guerrilla art.”

After a proposal and nod from Bundaberg Regional Council, Paul worked on funding the Milbi Magic project that would cover the Archies Beach toilet block in a bold and beautiful mosaic featuring the turtles the region is renowned for.

Unveiled at the end of 2020, the artwork ended up being 33 panels of about 100,000 tiles, completed in 6000 hours over two years by 200 volunteers.

And while that project is complete and Paul has been working on his own artwork, his ambition to leave his mark on Bundaberg is not yet over.

“Just before the Milbi Magic community project was finished, I put a proposal into Bundaberg Regional Council for a 20-year master plan for a series of Mosaic installations from Elliott Heads up to Burnett Heads, to do all the toilet blocks, which actually triggered a public art strategy consultation,” Paul said.