'I Always Felt Like a Caged Lion" How Visual Art Freed Songwriting Legend Bernie Taupin
publish date: 2017-02-15
Bernie Taupin spent decades penning lyrics for handfuls of pop’s greatest songs, as he traveled the globe with Elton John. But after his “great transient life” of touring gave way to years spent home on a ranch, Taupin turned what had been a racquetball court -- and later a recording studio -- into an art-making laboratory.
That's where you’re most likely to find him these days, masked against the noxious materials he works with, “cranking up the sounds” and getting to work on the rare days he’s at home. The songwriting genius has swapped words for found objects assembled into wall sculptures, which take up familiar ideas about music and Americana.
caught up with Taupin, in between appearances at Art Basel in Miami Beach in December and Art Palm Springs this weekend.
In the '90s something changed, and you became more interested in creating visual art. What was on your mind as you started to explore this other side of yourself?
I was never going to be somebody who sat on the side of the road with a canvas and an easel, painting pastoral settings. That was never in the cards for me. I wanted somewhere, something. I needed room to prowl and get organic, room to get dirty and get down with the mediums at hand.
In the early stages, I experimented with abstract art -- [German expressionist] Hans Hofmann being the sort of key for me because I loved the fact that he seemed so animalistic in his creative attack of things. There was no standing back and analyzing, he just got down into it.
I started to take notice of people like [Robert] Rauschenberg, Anselm Kiefer, and Antoni Tàpies. I saw what they were doing as the blueprint for where I wanted to go. There was so much found material, and I knew that there was something in there that I could use. But I could also not just emulate. I had to find my own voice within the confines of that kind of work. Then I got to the point of "Okay, I am purloining from other sources -- this isn’t what I want to do." Like every artist, you want to find your own voice.