In 2002, Paul’s exhibition ‘From Hammersmith to Greenwich’ was held in Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox. It was complimented with a catalog with all the paintings and below is Peter Ackroyd’s introduction:
Paul Simonon works from specific sites beside the Thames, in the are between Greenwich and Battersea, and as a result his painting is filled with the spirit of place. He stands by the river, and lets its world break through upon his canvas. Each small spot of London soil has its own peculiar and particular atmosphere; by going out, at all times and in all weathers, Paul Simonon is invaded by that atmosphere also. He has studied and contemplated art since childhood, but the life of the Thames and its surroundings has released his vision. It is a vision of freedom, and of continuity. Like Turner, he can be described both as a child of the river and a child of the city.
Where in recent years the Thames has been marginalised, or treated as a pretty conceit in the purlieus of “dockside development”, Paul Simonon reasserts its majesty and its pre-eminence. His compositions are modulated by its curve and flow, so that the Thames becomes the forming and informing principle of the city itself. It is the principle of life and light. The sea and the sky are intimately connected, so that it becomes a light and open city, a world away from the nineteenth century vision of darkness and labour. In his paintings all reverine things work in harmony: the buildings, the streets, the people, the vehicles, all are part of a living and endlessly expanding pattern. Even the vapour trails of the aeroplanes, and the flight paths of the river birds, celebrate the unity and the harmony of the great city below. The bridges are often in the foreground of his compositions, suggesting the human taming and tending of the river. They truly seem to be bridges of contentment.
Many artists have depicted the modern architecture of the city as brutal or inhumane, but this is to mistake the nature of London; in Paul Simonon’s work the buildings seem majestic, touching in their variety. He celebrates the city-ness of the city. And yet he always returns to the Thames. In his work it generates a cool pellucid light. It is like a river of pearl, or a river of white light from some unknown source of power. Paul Simonon is thereby reviving much earlier descriptions of the Thames, in “the silver-streaming Thames” of Edmund Spenser and the “silver Thames” of Alexander Pope. He is, in other words, part of a London tradition: a London vision. There is a definite connection, for examples, between the panoramas of Wenceslaus Hollar and the great sweep of the river in Simonon’s The Thames from Millbank. It is altogether unsurprising that he should cherish the work of Leon Kossoff and Fran Auerbach. There is a continuity. In a real sense Paul Simonon possesses the genius loci.
© Peter Ackroyd