Elton John Lyricist Bernie Taupin Opens Art Exhibit in Beverly Hills

Courtesy of Galerie Michael
From left: Bryce Dallas Howard, Heather Taupin, Bernie Taupin and Michael Schwartz

'Rocketman' star Bryce Dallas Howard and actress Kathleen Quinlan were among the guests at the songwriter's largest exhibit yet, featuring 26 new assemblage and sculpture works using guitars and American flags

Beverly Hills was feeling the Bern at Galerie Michael on June 6, as longtime Elton John lyricist Bernie Taupin opened his largest art exhibit to date, Bernie Taupin; The Artist, the Raconteur & His Blowtorch, running through June 30 and featuring 26 assemblage and sculpture works using American flags, guitars and other found items.

Guests spotted mingling in the spacious 12,000 square foot location at Galerie Michael in the 2 Rodeo Drive shopping complex included actresses Kathleen Quinlan and Bryce Dallas Howard, who plays John's mother, Sheila, in the biopic Rocketman which chronicles John and Taupin's long-running collaboration. 

Large-scale works like "I Was A Highwayman," with four battered guitars set in a cross over a tattered American flag, call to mind the work of 1960-70s Robert Rauschenberg, as well as abstract expressionist Hans Hofmann and Rauschenberg's partner, Jasper Johns, who often incorporated the American flag into his work. In Taupin’s work, the flag is often tattered, torn or otherwise maligned, raising the hackles of detractors. But Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy from Bakersfield, California gave him 10 American flags to use in his artwork.

"The American flag has been through Pearl Harbor or even the Marines taking Iwo Jima, battered and beaten, but the Americans always came back. So, the blowtorch is a metaphor for just that. In other words, let me burn, let me beat, let me destroy, but out of that burning and everything else will come a creative wonder," gallerist Michael Schwartz explained to The Hollywood Reporter about Taupin's use of the flag.

John and Taupin met as teenagers when they both answered an ad from Liberty Records looking for songwriters. Together they went on to write dozens of hits over a career spanning 50 years, with 255 million records sold worldwide, including 35 gold and 25 platinum albums. In the late 1990s, their "Candle in the Wind" tribute to Princess Diana chalked up a Billboard record 33 million in sales.

The songwriting duo attended Cannes on May 16 for the world premiere of Rocketman, for which they re-teamed to write "(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again," which plays over the film's closing credits. These days Taupin is all in on his artwork, spending most of his hours in his studio north of Santa Barbara, where he’s lived since the '80s.

"I'd heard Bernie talking about how he and Elton met: kismet, happenstance, it just happened," explained Schwartz, who purchased one of Taupin's pieces years ago, unusual for a collector of 20th century masters. "We have some major collectors who are building monumental collections that then tour museums and things of that nature. And already a couple of them have actually acquired Bernie's work here. We don't mention names because we deal with members of the royal family, high government officials, major art collectors who like to keep a low profile. I don't want to use that celebrity concept of 'Brad Pitt has one, DiCaprio collects the guy, you should buy one because he's hot.'"

Schwartz established the gallery in 1979 and holds an inventory of more than 8,000 works by artists like Rembrandt, as well as 20th century masters like Picasso, Renoir, Dalí, Miró, Matisse and Chagall, among others. Taupin could only feel honored to have his work hung in close proximity to such masters, even placing one of his flag works between a pair of Picassos as a backdrop to his chat with gallery director Robert Avellano.  

Taupin didn’t appear during the cocktail portion of the event until he took a seat opposite Avellano wearing tinted shades, a black button-down shirt with black vest and gray jeans as faded as his English accent. In a perfunctory conversation, the two touched on subjects like his process and legacy, overcoming the stigma of being a celebrity artist and the importance of arts funding in public schools. What stood out was his advice to young people, which sounded like a lyric from one of his hit songs, "Everybody has a dream, and a dream has to be followed."