Simon has always been an artist, he remembers doing a charcoal sketch of his brother at the age of seven and the results being “pretty good”. He was born in the Wairarapa, went to Fernridge primary, then Hadlow before being sent off to Wanganui Collegiate. His grandchildren now go to the same primary school.
He attended Ilam Art School in Christchurch but after a year was invited to go on a worldwide cricket tour with the Ambassadors Team. He approached Professor Simpson for permission, this was declined. He did what any sport obsessed twenty-year-old would do – and went anyway. He toured South and North America, The West Indies, Europe and the UK.
He returned to art school but didn’t last long. He took off traveling and sketched his way around the world. He remembers arriving in London with fifty pence in his pocket, enough for the bus ride to his sisters flat. After that he returned to New Zealand intent on creating a career in art. He painted portraits and touted his paintings around the country. He remembers exhibiting in Taihape when he was just twenty-five. He got married, had children and after a while taught art part -time at Wairarapa College and then full-time at Rathkeale. He says now that teaching was good for the mortgage. He intended to fulfill a three-year contract, but stayed for ten.
Cricket still featured in his life, he played for his club but also for the Wairarapa. The words of his professor at some point came back to him. “Payton, you must make a choice between cricket and art, you won’t be able to do both”. It’s a lesson I discover later that he still hasn’t learnt.
After his first marriage broke up he moved north. He stayed to start with at Butterfly Bay in Northland, the paintings from this time are colourful and distinctive. There is plenty of movement. His art career started going in the right direction. His first show at Warwick Henderson was entitled Swings and Bridges, he says the name summed up his work then and since; painting about his experiences and the places he was visiting or had visited. The show was positively reviewed by the critic TJ Macnamara. Other exhibitions followed and the work was flowing.
Around 2002 his work changed, it became more abstract, non-representational. It became about time and relationships. He says, “I was up at the top of Lion Rock on the West Coast of Auckland with my son looking down, people were walking away, no-one was coming back, it was spooky, everyone was walking away”. Stick figures appeared in the paintings, along with the odd stick dog.
Dogs are important to Payton. For this interview we’re sitting in a pub in Hastings on the south coast of England on a very blustery, wintery day, with Bug his new pup. At one point the bar maid squeals, the dog had chewed through the lead and ended up behind the bar. We both agree that dogs in pubs are a plus point to living in England.
Everyone walking away wasn’t the only reason Simon changed the way he worked. He’d been turned down by a gallery in NZ who said they liked his work but said they had a young painter whose work looked very similar to his, “I looked at his website and thought, you bastard, I decided it was time to move on”.
In 2014 his Nought’s and Crosses series started and the current method of painting using paint squeezed directly from the tube. It’s an expensive way of painting, but it is effective. He did a wildfire series too, which given what Australia is currently going through is now more poignant. He’s clearly still a colourist. His Wellington and Auckland dealer Ron Eskamp (Exhibitions Gallery) describes him as Jackson Pollack on steroids. You can see that appeals to the artist.
Over the years he has exhibited all over New Zealand. Overseas he has had shows in L.A. Washington DC, two shows in Franfurt, London, Germany and right at the beginning in Papua New Guinea. There have been plenty of awards and he is still painting portraits.
Simon moved to London in early 2018. He now has a studio in Brixton and has exhibited since he arrived at the studio and at a small gallery in Edinburgh. His intention when he arrived was to paint ten European places in a year, but so far he has only managed Lisbon.
I ask him why and he tells me that cricket is partly to blame. Before he left for London he was playing for the New Zealand over 60’s team. Now that he’s here living in the home of cricket, he’s become a bit obsessed. Last summer he played three times a week, once for a club in Hampstead, once for a side in Sussex and mid-week for the Middlesex over 60’s. Old Prof Simpson might have something to say about that!
Simons work is available through
This article is one of a series of profiles of artists and those that are involved in the art world. Sponsored by The Art Library Ltd.
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