BILLY Beaumont has a strong belief in public art - and in the public making public art.

“Community art projects are really important. They’re great for all sorts of different psychological reasons – art therapy - and bringing people back together as part of a community.

“A lot of that has been taken away over the years, that sense of community.

“There doesn’t seem to be much of it compared to when I was a youngster.

“I think the art projects are really good at doing that. It gives people a bit of stress-relief as well. They express themselves – everybody’s got to express themselves at some point.

“I think it’s important to bring a little of that community spirit back – plus with the bonus of being able to express yourself as well, whatever is going on in your mind.

“I think art gives you that release.”

The new mural, called Swindon Then, When and Now, is a case in point.

“Initially I came up with the design, and then thought, ‘Why should this just be about me? There’s an opportunity here for a bit of community painting going on.’ I just wanted to see if anybody would be that interested, because generally people don’t really have much time for art these days because you have to have to stop and stand and look at it!

“I wanted to break these boundaries of us and them as far as being an artist.”

He did indeed break the boundaries; the youngest participant was three and the oldest 73.

Billy drew the outlines of the designs and invited people to add the vibrant colours now on show in Theatre Square.

The artist is originally from Halifax, although he spent much of his early life in Hampshire and has lived in Swindon for 26 years.

He attended art college in Southampton.

“As a child I was always drawing – but nearly all children draw. I had a real eye for copying the cult cartoons of the day, like Wacky Races. I used to put it down in books, which my dad kept and sent to me much later on.

“I’d always kept drawing and creating characters since then. I was working in the print trade for 22 years, so when that career came to an end I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to give this a go. I’m going to take up art as a full time career. So it’s probably been the last 12 or 13 years.”

In addition to commissions and the usual work of a professional artist, Billy provides art therapy as a teacher with a local charity for young people.

“Seeing how it affects the children in the classes, I suddenly realised that that’s what I’d been doing for myself all these years!

“When you’re concentrating on a piece of art and creating from your mindset, or even copying, it takes you away from that usual environment you’re in – inside your mind and outside your mind.

“That really gives them a break from what they’re familiar with.”

A distinctive feature of Billy’s figures is their strikingly large eyes, something which dates from his art school days.

“It was when I went into art training – oh, the amount of times that lecturers said, ‘You haven’t got the eyes, it’s about the eyes.’

“They always kept harping on about the eyes, all the time, and I think, just out of pure frustration, I did them really large and liked it. It was basically, ‘Here’s your eyes, for God’s sake!’

“It was a rebellion against set standards, really. It was me rebelling against the constraint of that training, and I liked it, but if I fitted it with the rest of a realist face it didn’t seem to work; it would just creep people out. So I just then created the character to suit.”

He urges would-be full time artists never to lose sight of their ambitions, but also not to be under any illusions.

“You’ll have your commissions and stuff; you’ve still got deadlines and everything to meet just as if you were still working in a factory or something. It’s the same sort of concept.

“But the difference is that if you choose to be an artist, then I think it’s because it’s something you love to do.”

Billy’s website is