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LONDON — So where do punk rockers go when they decide to turn off the electric guitar and take off the combat gear? In Paul Simonon’s case, straight to the banks of the Thames with paintbrushes in hand. The former bass player and image guru for The Clash has a new vocation as a landscape artist in the great tradition of Turner, Constable and Canaletto.
His first major London exhibition opened last week at the Hazlitt, Gooden and Fox Gallery in St. James’ and runs until Oct. 11. Simonon’s old friends — Damien Hirst, Ewan McGregor, Ben Elton and former Clash crooner Joe Strummer — all turned out at the opening party.
Over a glass of orange juice and fizzy water at his neighborhood pub in Notting Hill, Simonon explains that he actually started life as an artist. As a child, he’d stay up all night drawing toys, battlefields and stick-figure soldiers. Today, he paints bridges, traffic, seagulls and the London Eye, everything that makes up this glorious and often gloomy cityscape.
“I came back here in the late Eighties after having lived in America, and I realized that being away gave me a whole new vision of London, and of England. The clouds even seemed poetic,” says the 47-year-old, who is married with two sons. “I went down to the river and started painting. And after a while, the river traffic, the Thames boat picking up rubbish, the pigeons and the seagulls all seemed like familiar friends.”
Of course, landscape drawing has its drawbacks, too, such as certain passersby volunteering a steady stream of advice. “You feel like punching them in the nose,” he says with his big, gap-toothed smile. And then there are those days that are just too perfect. “Some areas of Cornwall are just too pretty to paint. When I’m there, I keep hoping for a black cloud to cheer me up a bit.”
Next up for Simonon is an exhibition in Japan and a switch from landscape to still life.
The artist and former guitarist says his two careers have a lot in common. “They offer a person a means to express himself — and a way out. If you have no job prospects, you learn guitar to get out of the hole,” he says. “It’s the same thing with painting.”