Lyricist Bernie Taupin Opens Up About His True (Visual) Passion

Elton John’s longtime lyricist is also a veteran visual artist who’s bringing three exhibitions to galleries both coasts this fall.

Bernie Taupin has carved an iconic, multi-decade career as a lyricist—primarily as Elton John’s longtime collaborator on such songs as “Rocket Man,” “Candle in the Wind,” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”—as well as Broadway and film, earning a Golden Globe Award for Brokeback Mountain’s “A Love That Will Never Grow Old.”

Bernie Taupin[Photo: Rob Hoffman]

But he has also been creating visual art since the early ’90s, exhibiting in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami, and selling to private collectors. His current solo exhibition, 8, at KM Fine Arts in Los Angeles, features eight large-scale mixed-media works on view through October 28.

In November, an election-timed exhibit featuring incarnations of the American flag will grace Waterhouse & Dodd’s New York gallery November 3-30, with another at ArtMiami, Nov. 20-Dec 4.

“Songwriting takes very little of my time. I spend a couple of hours or a day, when a project surfaces. But art is a 24-hour passion; it’s a much stronger expression for me,” says Taupin.

[Photo: Susan Karlin]

“Both art and music are about striving to find your own voice. Now with these assemblage pieces and use of found material, I want people to be able to dive into and explore them,” he adds. “I’ve tried for a long time to disassociate myself from the dreadful ‘celebrity artist.’ That drives me nuts. I think I’ve proved my worth just by the people who are showing my art now.”

Inspired by ’60s and ’70s American modernist styles when he moved Stateside some 40 years ago, the British-born Taupin began painting before taking a more sculptural and tactile direction. Two years ago, he began working in multi-media assemblage and found material, incorporating items like eight-track tapes, guitar parts, vintage comics, Polaroids, scorched canvases, and broken frames, often adding a dash of edginess and sardonic social commentary.

“This is my first major show of assemblage pieces,” he says of his current exhibit. “A few assemblage pieces were previously sneaking into other shows.” It’s also the first public showing of his decade-old American Burka, a sculpture of a female mannequin wrapped in coarse cloth and barbed wire.

[Photo: Susan Karlin]

“The hardest part is coming up with idea. Once I have the inspiration, the execution of the pieces is a piece of cake,” he says. “I’ll go for a couple of weeks where I’m just dry and have run out of ideas. I don’t sleep very well; my mind is constantly creating.

“I’ll wake up in the middle of the night with an idea, and sketch or write it out. Then just let me loose in the studio,” he laughs. “There’s almost a prehistoric drive when I get into the studio, blast loud music, surrounded by all my mediums, and I’ll be in there for hours, creating one piece in one long haul. Unless I don’t have all the pieces. I sometimes spend more time in the hardware store than the studio.

“I love being in my studio, inventing and creating. It’s like being a mad professor.”

About the author

Susan Karlin is an award-winning journalist in Los Angeles, covering the nexus of science, technology, and arts, with a fondness for sci-fi and comics. She's a regular contributor to Fast Company, NPR, and IEEE Spectrum, and has written for Newsweek, Forbes, Wired, Scientific American, Discover, NY and London Times, and BBC Radio.