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Bernie Taupin, lyricist for Elton John, exhibits art at Tampa's Michael Murphy Gallery

Bernie Taupin has become a legend, and a wealthy man, as a lyricist. During their almost 40-year collaboration, he has given voice to Elton John's melodies; together, they have written some of the most memorable and beloved songs in the popular music canon. But Taupin is a man of many creative interests and talents, including art. For more than 20 years, he has quietly taught himself to paint in a studio on the 30-acre ranch near Los Angeles he shares with his third wife and daughters, 3 and 6. He began exhibiting about a decade ago after he felt he had found his own style. Today, that style has evolved into abstract works densely layered with blocks and washes of color interjected with linear elements and sometimes the addition of other materials. A large exhibition of his paintings and prints made from them is on display at Michael Murphy Gallery in Tampa, and he will be there Saturday and Sunday to discuss his art informally. In a recent telephone interview, Taupin, 61, talked about his art and some other creative outlets, including a passion for cooking.

You have credited your mother and grandfather with inspiring in you a love of literature and reading. Were you also exposed to art when you were young?

I grew up in a place (a rural area of England) without even what would be called a major town. It was culturally vapid so anything I saw visually, I saw in books. My mother loved (J.M.W.) Turner, so he was the first artist I remember.

Did you take any art classes?

No. I was a reader. When everyone else was playing cowboys and Indians, I was playing Lochinvar (the character in a long narrative poem by 19th-century novelist and poet Walter Scott) and reciting large blocks from Tennyson.

When did you become interested in creating art?

I was always drawing but didn't have the intensity for it that came later on. I began sketching a lot when we (John and he) were on the road. For so many years, I had a very transient life. I always wanted to paint large canvases but never had a place for it until I bought this ranch and settled down.

So you just picked up a brush and started painting?

Yes. At first I thought I wanted to paint big noisy paintings, but they became not so noisy and a bit more cerebral. I've always believed that if there's something you want to do, just try it.

How would you describe your painting process?

I like the straight-from-the-tube intensity that (Hans) Hoffman has. Painting is much like writing a song. It's a lyrical thing. A lot of people find my lyrics obscure to a certain point, and I like to create art that will also allow people to use their imaginations.

But all your paintings have very specific titles.

That's because I'm a songwriter. My titles are there to spark people's imaginations. I don't mind if someone comes up with their own representations.

You're famous for your music, but you have never been someone who's recognized in airports like John.

No, I'm reclusive and rarely give interviews. I could never live the kind of life he leads.

Do you get criticism from other artists and critics about trading on your fame in music for your painting?

Yes, and I don't have any choice; I understand I'm manacled to my celebrity, and I'm going to be painted into that corner — to use a cliche — by some people no matter what. I'd be lying if I said I didn't want the same respect for my art as for my music. But I love painting.

You also love cooking, I understand.

I do all the cooking at the house. I love Indian. When I blend spices, it reminds me of mixing colors.

Vegetarian?

No, I love meat. I'm looking forward to Bern's (Steak House) when I'm in Tampa.

I have to ask an Elton John question: What did you call him when you first met?

What everyone called him: Reg. (His name was Reginald Dwight.)

Was it hard to call him Elton when he changed his name?

No. I think it's rude not to call someone whatever they want to be called. And now if somebody called him Reg, he'd probably take their head off.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at lennie@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8293.

. If You Go

Beyond Words:

The Paintings of Bernie Taupin

The exhibition for show and sale is at Michael Murphy Gallery, 2701 S MacDill Ave., Tampa, through Sunday. Taupin will make guest appearances from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday and from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday. Please do not bring memorabilia for autographs. Reservations are encouraged for space purposes and so you can be contacted if there is a scheduling change. Free. (813) 902-1414 or michaelmurphygallery.com.

Bernie Taupin, lyricist for Elton John, exhibits art at Tampa's Michael Murphy Gallery 11/09/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 9, 2011 3:30am]

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