Known as Elton John’s songwriter and collaborator for the past 50 years, Bernie Taupin began working as a visual artist in the early 1990s.
Inspired by Abstract Expressionists, he started by painting. But Taupin eventually transitioned into using found objects ranging from tapes, CDs and records to guitars to American flags to comic book pages, and his current work can arguably be categorized as folk art.
“I always wanted to create artwork, (but) up until that point I led a very certain nomadic, transient life,” he said in response to a question about his transition from painting to his current style. “In order to create the kind of artwork that I wanted to create, which was larger pieces, … I knew what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to go big or go home. It wasn’t really until I got grounded and found a permanent home and a permanent studio that I really started creating in earnest.”
Taupin spoke on that topic and more at a private brunch reception Nov. 3 at the Lowe Gallery in Buckhead, where “Lost and Found,” an exhibition featuring 38 of his works, is on display. The show, which opened Oct. 25 and closes Nov. 30, is coinciding with John’s Nov. 1 and 2 concerts at State Farm Arena in downtown Atlanta, his last public performances in the city as part of the “Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour.”
Taupin said he started as a visual artist by “emulating my artistic heroes.”
“I went through my art phase, (with) Warhol-esque dabblings,” he said. “It wasn’t satisfying. I don’t know how you do it. You sort of gravitate. You’re always searching. If you’re an artist, you’re always hungry. My desire was to find something I felt was wholly personal and I started putting found objects in my work. You’ve seen the mid-era Bernie stuff between the paintings and what you see now. There is paint and there are elements of found materials.
“So (there is) this gravitational pull for me to do something original. I don’t really know the first piece where I said, ‘I may have done something (original).’ I think it was probably the pieces I’ve done several of, called ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ which was the American flag bound in twine and is a sort of topical thing I put up. … It actually resonated with people. I think that was the point of the piece, that the flag always comes back.”
Regarding songwriting, a guest asked, “So when you work with an artist, do you start with an idea or a story to tell and you say, ‘Here, I have these words; you can put tunes to them.’ Or does he come to you with the tunes and say, ‘I’m hearing this tune and want to put words to it.’ How do you collaborate with the artist?”
Taupin replied, “I create everything in the same way. It starts with me. It starts in my head. It’s all about imagination and to answer that question would take way too long (drawing laughter). I simply do what I do. I don’t try to evaluate it. I don’t try to question it. I do it out of love and passion. Every single thing I do could come from a different place, a different idea.”
A native of Lincolnshire, England, Taupin lives in California and is a U.S. citizen. Bill Lowe, the gallery’s owner, said Taupin’s love of America shows in his art, which includes an homage to blues legend Robert Johnson.
“A lot of the imagery was influenced by his love of blues of the Deep South and folk music, and it translates into a distilled or stripped-down homage to Americana,” he said in an interview right before the exhibition opened. “Even though he’s from England, when he first came to America, he said he felt more at home in America than England. He’s been a U.S. citizen for decades now. He’s got an unbridled opportunity, an ambiguous commitment to ‘liberty and justice for all’ chord that drives our national conversation. He’s deeply patriotic in more of a Woody Guthrie way than a Norman Rockwell way.”
The Neighbor has requested a brief interview with Taupin through his publicist and is awaiting her response.
The gallery is located at 764 Miami Circle, Suite 210 in Atlanta. For more information, visit www.lowegallery.com.