Saturday, July 11, 2015

Bernie Taupin: 'Art is my Biggest Thrill in Life'

This week, Bernie Taupin, the California-based lyricist who has been collaborating with Elton John since the late 1960s, made his first trip to the Hamptons.


It wasn’t for anything musical, but rather in support of two installations of his art, which he has been making since the mid-1990s.

One, entitled “Plain Brown Wrapper,” a selection of his new, more experimental work with titles like “Roses Grown From the Mouths of the Dead” and “Norman Rockwell Cried Last Night”—a 60-by-48 inch canvas made of acrylic, wax, cheesecloth and covered in white wood strips—will be on display at the ArtSouthampton art fair through Monday. The other show, a retrospective, opens Saturday at Mark Borghi Fine Art on Main Street in Bridgehampton, where it will be on display through the end of the month.

Last year, about this time, Mr. Borghi had an exhibition of paintings by Bob Dylan, the opening of which brought out 800 guests. Mr. Taupin’s work continued in the songwriter/artist vein. “It’s a cool thing to do in the summer,” Mr. Borghi said.

The concept certainly dovetails with the interests of the local community, which crowded Guild Hall in East Hampton last week for a Beach Boys concert. For future exhibitions, Mr. Borghi said he was looking at the art of Joni Mitchell and Neil Young.

“I also like the work,” said Mr. Borghi of Mr. Taupin’s visual oeuvre, adding that his favorite Elton John/Bernie Taupin tune was probably “Your Song.” In comparison to Mr. Dylan, he went on, “Bernie’s a far more interesting painter. You can put his work next to a modern master like George Condo and it doesn’t fall off.”

Mr. Taupin started seriously focusing on visual art when he moved to his current home, north of Santa Barbara in the Santa Ynez Valley, he told us before installing his show at Mr. Borghi’s gallery. He turned an existing racquetball court on the property into an artist’s studio.

Before that, said Mr. Taupin, “I’d led a more transient lifestyle. And I knew when I wanted to try my hand at art, I was going to make larger pieces instead of watercolors on the side of the road. So I knew I wanted a lot of space. That way, you can get visceral. You can stalk [a canvas]. You can throw things at it.”

In the racquetball court, he experiments with various mediums. “I’ve used nails, wood, sacking burlap, cheesecloth, ash and charcoal from my fireplace,” he said. Discovering his inner artist has been “quite honestly, the biggest thrill I get out of life.”

That said, Mr. Taupin still writes songs. Out of a year, he explained, he probably spends a total of a month doing that.

“Writing a song is satisfying, but it’s probably not as much of a challenge,” he said. “Over the years, it’s become so automatic. I don’t have to put a lot of myself into it. I always wrote what I wrote on my own and kablooey, it went to Elton.”

His and Mr. John’s partnership is “slowing down,” Mr. Taupin said. “We’re not the megaforce we were.”

Mr. Taupin added that he’s also not particularly interested in expanding his ties in the contemporary music industry.

“I know nothing about modern music. I don’t listen to radio. I don’t think I’ve ever even heard a Lady Gaga song,” he said.

When he’s painting in the studio, he plays Miles Davis or the Louvin Brothers. “I can’t imagine listening to Top 40.”

Writing a song might take 20 minutes, he added. He might complete three to four pieces of art “in a couple of weeks.” Has he thought about the per-minute financial value of his day?

“Time is not of importance,” said Mr. Taubin.

Though he’s quite established in the music business, in the art world, “I’ve still got to prove myself,” Mr. Taubin said. “I’m still traveling the road.” This year, his art will bring him to Aspen, Dallas and Miami, “but I ache to get back in the studio and be alone with my components.”

He said he never had any reason to come to the Hamptons before.

“It seems like a very social place and I’m not a very social person,” Mr. Taupin said. “I like to work alone and take sojourns out into the fray.”

Having first come to New York in the winter of 1970, he often spent time at the Museum of Modern Art and developed an affinity for Rothko, de Kooning, Pollock and Warhol. His personal collecting tastes, however, include photography: “bizarre photos of old Jazz musicians,” a picture of Hank Williams’s driver’s license, a portrait of Johnny Cash’s parents.

In the few minutes of free time he’ll have in the Hamptons, he plans to go to visit the Pollock-Krasner house in the Springs and de Kooning’s studio, “and then I’ll run back and hide until the next time out.”

- Wall Street Journal

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