Most people know Bernie Taupin as the lyricist for Elton John's greatest hits like "Tiny Dancer" and "Rocket Man." Together, Taupin and John have recorded 30 albums worth of popular songs recorded over four decades. It is one of those time-honored partnerships from which everyone has been made better.
You may not know that he has also written for Alice Cooper, Heart, Willie Nelson, Kid Rock and Courtney Love and won a Golden Globe for the song "A Love That Will Never Grow Old" from the movie Brokeback Mountain.
But what even fewer classic rock lovers know is that Taupin is also an immensely talented abstract visual artist, with a warehouse studio full of color-blocked canvases that are just as lively and soulful as any one of his radio ballads.
With 20 years of painting under his belt, Taupin's personally and politically-charged visual works demand just as much of your attention and have earned him prominent exhibitions at galleries across the United States and England.
The British-born Taupin has lived in the United States since the 1970s and made Santa Barbara, CA his home when he is not traveling for work. Currently, however, he is on another national gallery tour that includes a stop this month at Austin's Russell Collection Fine Art Gallery.
The Russell Gallery exhibition, cleverly titled "Beyond Words," is a collection of the songwriter's vibrant abstracts that demonstrate his command of line and form and color as an alternative vocabulary to lyrics and melody.
Anticipating his arrival, CultureMap talked with Taupin to learn a little bit about where his inspiration originates and where the relationship exists between making beautiful, memorable music and making stunning visual art.
CultureMap: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us, Bernie. We're really looking forward to your arrival in Austin! Have you been to Austin before and been able to experience any of the signature Austin charm?
Bernie Taupin: I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in Austin and appreciate it for its multi-cultural hum. There is definitely an air of creativity that makes you feel as if you’re soaking in something worthwhile even if you’re not necessarily experiencing it first hand. People on the outside tend to associate Austin primarily with music, but if they looked a little deeper they’d find so much more to entertain their curiosity.
CM: How did this latest tour come about? Are these galleries that you knew already or are they new to you?
BT: The tour came about at the suggestion of my representatives, and as it seemed like a good way to give my art a little breathing room, I was agreeable. Most of the galleries so far are new to me but they have all been most accommodating and generous with their space. One of the satisfying aspects of having your canvas hung and lit well is that it’s equally beneficial to the artist's eye as I would hope it is to the those that come to view it.
CM: Have you always been a visual artist in addition to a musician?
BT: I’ve been painting seriously for close to 20 years but had always wanted to try my hand at visual arts way before that. However, due to my location and busy lifestyle, it was hard to do so considering the scope of the things I desired to create, meaning large canvas and lots of paint.
CM: Your style definitely fits a given perspective and school of thought. Who are your major inspirations from the abstract world and favorite visual artists of the past and the present?
BT: Obviously I’m a huge fan of the Abstract Expressionists of the 40s and 50s, but I tend to appreciate individual pieces rather than any one artist in particular. Although I should tip my hat to Hans Hoffman who was most definitely an influence on much of my earlier work.
CM: Do you approach painting in the same mind space as you do your songwriting? Is is the same spot in your brain that inspiration comes from?
BT: Certainly they come from the same place. Both originate from my imagination, one just happens to be sonic, while the other is visual. The thing about the creative process of both is that they are solitary and, given my ease with that state of being, they suit me fine.
CM: Does one come more naturally to you than the other?
BT: Neither one comes any more naturally than the other, but I do paint far more than I write songs, so the balance isn’t close to being even.
CM: Most of the artists we interview have music playing in the background while they work, but none of them have also been musicians of your caliber. What do you listen to while you're painting?
BT: Sometimes it’s quiet when I paint, sometimes its rowdy; it very much depends on my mood. But when the ideas are locked in and I’m focused on the colors, then it’s cranking. It runs the gamut and can be dictated by the time of day, but it might be Mahler, Coltrane, Chicago blues... everything up to Cash, Haggard and Jones.
CM: You've made your mark now in the music and visual art worlds. What's next on your list for world domination?
BT: Oh, world domination doesn’t really appeal to me, so I think I’ll just stick to what I know for now.
Bernie Taupin's "Beyond Words" exhibition is currently on display at the Russell Collection Fine Art Gallery until Aug. 25. The artist will be at the Russell Collection in person on Friday, Aug. 24 and Saturday, Aug. 25 to meet and discuss his artwork with his fans.