The man behind Elton John’s pipes and odd lyrical flare is still very much active, but now instead of being behind the scenes, he is putting his work on stage. A collection of his work hung in the Aspen Ice Garden this past weekend as one of the first set of works visitors saw when they came to ArtAspen.
Bernie Taupin, the lyricist and part of the songwriting duo that scored so many hits is now a modern artist, using paint, wood, wax and even bubble wrap to create large pieces of work that have been selling for thousands of dollars.
Despite what he might say himself, people don’t really know who Bernie is when it comes to the visual arts. It might even be tough to find a lot of people who know him even when you put his name together with Elton John. But when you ask Bernie himself what he thinks of being in the art world, he’ll tell you that it’s something that has been a part of his life for as long as he can remember. Maybe longer than his music career.
“You know when I traveled to New York living a transient lifestyle in with a rock and roll band, we didn’t have any money back then," says Taupin. "So, the easiest place for us to go in the winter of 1970 for instance, I would go hide out in the Museum of Modern Art and spend hours there.”
So after those glamorous days of rock and roll were over, he converted an old racquetball court into a studio where he makes his art.
One piece called “The Shipwreck News” is made up of wood scraps, cheesecloth, dirt and charcoal dust all held together with wax. When he put the piece together, he says he didn’t know how things would turn out, but sometimes that is a good thing for him.
“I’m gonna do that because it might be cool. It might suck! It might look like crap, but if it looks like crap, I’ll strip the canvas and rework it. But if it works, and it looks really cool, then great!”
Bernie says his creative process is very much a session of trial and error. He has notes to himself on the walls of his studio reminding him to know when to stop. One extra mark here or there could ruin an entire piece. It’s like adding too much salt to your dinner. It tastes just fine until there is too much.
Depending on what he is trying to accomplish, he’ll play a huge range of music while he creates his pieces. For something that requires a bit more nuance and a gentle hand, he might play some Miles Davis.
But if he needs to “get angry” with a piece, he says he’ll go with something a bit more aggressive, like Charles Mingus.
He says that seeing his art in a gallery is like seeing it for the first time. He can’t hang it like they do. He can’t light it like they do. It is an entirely new experience for him when it’s installed by professionals.
“It’s akin to making your first record and you took it home and you went ‘woah that’s cool!’. You should always have that same feeling about what you do. If what you achieve, what you create doesn’t inspire that kind of reaction in you, you shouldn’t be doing it.”