Bernie Taupin, Elton John lyricist, is a True American artist

 "Sleeping Beauty IV" by Bernie Taupin, a piece from the "True American" exhibition on display at Chase Contemporary in New York City.

"Sleeping Beauty IV" by Bernie Taupin, a piece from the "True American" exhibition on display at Chase Contemporary in New York City.

ALEX BIESE, ASHBURY PARK PRESS | OCTOBER 19, 2018

He’s one of the most acclaimed and successful British songwriters of all time, but in his heart Bernie Taupin is a true American.

Taupin, known for generations the world over as Elton John’s lyricist, has worked as a visual artist for decades. His latest body of work, the exhibition “True American” on display through Nov. 10 at Chase Contemporary in Manhattan, finds Taupin re-purposing elements of Americana imagery — particularly American flags and weathered instruments — continuing a thematically consistent, lifelong artistic pursuit.

“I can tell you from my perspective that I’m absolutely thrilled with this show,” Taupin said when calling from the gallery. “It’s without a doubt certainly the most cohesive and certainly for me the most satisfying show I’ve ever put together.

“I think there is, as I said, a cohesiveness that is quite special, certainly for me anyway. There’s always a magic to seeing the materials that are sort of lying around in your studio suddenly, magically, placed upon walls, symmetrically and well-lit, that is very invigorating for the artist.”

Taupin recently discussed the complex iconography of the American flag, the artistic merits of appropriation and more with the Asbury Park Press and USA Today Network.

Q: Talking about the cohesive nature of this exhibition, which I can see from just thumbing through the catalog, was there a guiding vision or North Start of sorts as you were assembling the pieces that would form "True American"?

A: Well, I don’t know if this is necessarily the answer that you want but I think that as an artist — an artist, I should say, on any level, whether it’s musical, whether you’re writing a book or whether you’re writing poetry or creating songs — I think we all start by poaching a little, but our ultimate goal is to find our own voice. And I think that’s really the crux of the situation here with my work, especially with the flag-based material that is the emphasis of the show and the what I call "web and weaving" style that I use.

I think all of these things I’ve pretty much reached a point where I’ve reached a sort of originality of my own whereas in the past, in the early years, as I said we poach off other artists, not necessarily flagrantly but they sort of soak into our bloodline and they do sort of tend to infuse us with something that we try to emulate. But at the same time, I think there is that drive to create something that you feel is your own voice.

And I think it’s taken me a long time, but I think with this exhibition and certainly the flag emphasis, which is the central point of most of my work these days along with the sort of organic instrumental addition to it and the blending of the two, I think I’ve created something that is pretty special — special to me anyway, and hopefully it’ll be special to other people and they will hopefully see the originality in it. I suppose that’s it in a nutshell, yes.

 
 "Jimmy Martin Nashville Martyr" by Bernie Taupin, a piece from the "True American" exhibition on display at Chase Contemporary in New York City.

"Jimmy Martin Nashville Martyr" by Bernie Taupin, a piece from the "True American" exhibition on display at Chase Contemporary in New York City.

 

Q: That’s interesting, the concept of poaching. It brings to mind a theme that sometimes is addressed quite literally in the work but it’s also thematically present, and that’s the concept of appropriation, taking found objects and constructing new art of them, whether that’s a flag or newsprint or twine.

But it’s also thematic and cultural acts of appropriation in the way you’ve weaved in elements of Americana and American history and American culture. I find that to be a fascinating theme running through your work, this concept of appropriation.

A: There’s lots of different answers to that. The appropriation of found materials has been ongoing in my work for a long time. You can drive down the road and see something lying on the side of the road that’s probably as insignificant as a piece of coiled, rusting barbed wire but to me that’s a priceless jewel because I know that somewhere within the framework of my work I can certainly use that, and I’ve used that.

But certainly the thing about the flag that is so unique to me is that’s so malleable and misunderstood at the same time. The interesting thing about the flag to me is there is so much discussion about misusing or mishandling of the flag.

The one thing that I find fascinating (is) that if you actually look into the rules of flag disposal when it needs to be replaced with something new one of the key components of disposing of a flag is burning it in a respectful way, which is kind of odd considering that disrespect of the flag is people burning it, too. So my feeling is what I’m doing with it is from a totally respectful viewpoint.

But as I say, the flag is so wonderful because it’s so malleable and in my work I can use it in so many different ways and hopefully that’s what I’ve done, whether it’s intertwined with battered musical instruments that come from a very American standpoint also; I mean, all of my musical pieces that involve the flag are created with a sense of a genre that is wholly American, whether it’s blues or traditional gospel or traditional country music, I think the flag represents itself within that framework tremendously because it’s wholly American.

That’s how I sort of view my work in general: it all comes from a gut level, organic, American viewpoint.

 
 Bernie Taupin, left, and Bernie Chase of Chase Contemporary at the Oct. 17 opening of "True American" at Chase Contemporary in New York City.

Bernie Taupin, left, and Bernie Chase of Chase Contemporary at the Oct. 17 opening of "True American" at Chase Contemporary in New York City.

 


Q: Flag imagery, what some consider patriotic imagery, is very potent and very provocative, especially these days when there are folks who choose to metaphorically wrap themselves in the American flag to support whatever sociopolitical or personal or ideological viewpoint they have.

It’s a very loaded image as well, especially in 2018 in America. It’s a very striking primary color image but it’s also a totem that has a lot of weight to it depending on who’s using it and how.

A: You’re absolutely right. There are so many different viewpoints where the flag is concerned. I mean, there are people obviously that don’t respect it with any particular value or don’t associate to it with any particular value.

What I find extraordinary about the American flag is I don’t think there is any other country in the world, and I don’t think you can name one, where the flag is as iconic as it is in this country. I wrote a piece for the Callanwolde (Fine Arts Center) catalog that we did for Atlanta, and in it I was saying that I live in a very, very small town on the central coast of California and you can stand in my gas station, which is a mom and pop gas station, you can look up and down the road, and I would say you can see probably 12 to 13 flags flying above, whether it’s private homes or whether it’s the gas station or the grocery store.

I don’t think there is any other place in the world that you could experience that same situation. So the flag here is certainly the most iconic flag in the world, I mean it’s the most recognizable. And again, for me I take the flag and I use it with the greatest respect and I am very, very patriotic.

This country is very important to me, I’ve lived here for over half of my life, I’ve been a citizen here for over half of my life, and so it’s a symbol that speaks volumes to me. I never tire of working with it. I will probably move on to other forms of artwork but I don’t see a point in time where I will stop using it to some degree in the things that I create.

"Bernie Taupin: True American," is on display through Nov. 10 at Chase Contemporary, 231 10th Ave., New York City,   www.chasecontemporary.combernietaupinart.com.

Liu Shuishi, Dancing emotions and theatrical canvases

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SARAH CORONA, WALL STREET INTERNATIONAL - OCTOBER 9, 2018

The Beijing Opera is known for combining music, vocal performance, mime, dance and acrobatics. With elaborate costumes, the protagonists act in front of a characteristically sparse stage. They use their performing skills in a symbolic and suggestive way, rather than in a realistic one. Above all, the skill of the performers is evaluated according to the beauty of their movements.

That kind of beauty and movement can be observed in the paintings of Liu Shuishi, currently shown at Chase Contemporary Gallery in Chelsea, New York. His large scale canvases are inhabited by abstract figures, sometimes only one, sometimes more. Their large heads are rendered with bold brushstrokes and subtle details conferring both the energy of a theatrical dance on stage and the calmness of a quiet lake at dawn.

In “Ghost” (2012) for example, the head of a male (or female) character emerges from a blown and abstract body. The brushstrokes are fast but precise, conveying to the glaze of the eyes sharpness and to the body of the character the energy of a samurai fighter. Movement and action are clearly perceivable while an inner calmness transpires from the center.

In “Couple” (2012) a similar dynamic can be observed. Two characters stand back to back as if they were trying to avoid any (eye) contact. Their bodies speak about closeness, about connection, and shared moments while their body language evidently convey discontent. Pens and brushes traced very clear lines on top of abstract and undefined color fields. Few details are enough to let their emotions speak. Two opposites play against each others, yet, their bodies are inseparably bound together, emphasized by a red element that resembles a pulled heart, each half pulsing in one of the two bodies.

Like in most of the Chinese contemporary artists, an extensive study of European masters is as evident as the everlasting connection to their own roots. “Who Is The Corresponding One?” (2015) and “Living In The Boundaries of Thought” (2015) for example show clear influence of the attention to Italian sculptor and painter Amedeo Modigliani and Chinese calligraphy artist Xiao Ping. In “Slough” (2011) and “Subject and Object” (2015) we can read traits of the Dutch expressionist artist Willem De Kooning and Chinese ink-painter Zeng Shanqing.

The combination of two opposites in painting, both visual and conceptual, is a characteristic of Asian contemporary art and it is rooted in the Eastern philosophy. While the Western way of thinking, and its artistic expressions, is characterized by a dichotomization of concepts and thoughts, Asian art embraces the opposite. Here, complementary energies are at work, reciprocate dependencies and correlations rule existence. There is no need to negate or discuss but affirmative actions and visual elements create the narrative.

Indeed, Liu Shuishi, an avid scholar of both Asian and Western philosophy, who practices meditation on a daily basis and for many months before he even starts to paint, expresses feelings and doesn’t illustrate them. By rendering visible the underlying connections of apparent oppositions such as love and hate, struggle and peace, honesty and unfairness, communication and silence, just to name a few, Shuishi emphasizes also the hidden truth of things and asserts the possibility of a harmonious coexistence of seemingly incompatible phenomena in life.

Born in 1962, he belongs to the class of Chinese artists who experienced the turbulent atmosphere of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1972) and the events of Tiananmen Square (1989) but unlike most of his peers, who elaborate often political issues in their art, may it be as a form of protest or as a form of self-therapy, Shuishi focuses more on answering psychological questions, based on international literature and his meditation practice. “In his work, topics like desire, isolation, or sexuality are expressed in a very subtle way. He is not using China or its political issues to draw attention from the Western audience”, says the curator of the exhibition, Diana Chen, “rather, he investigates his own identity between two opposites, the East and the West.”

The other works in this exhibition are emblematic for his unique approach to art. The characters and their emotions, are defined by a masterly mix of precise and undefined brushstrokes, by large, monochrome areas and small, colorful components. Facial expressions are rendered with little details. They clearly define deep sentiments, at the same time there is enough leeway to the viewer’s imagination. Their stories are never narrated through realistic posing or descriptions, rather, like in the Chinese Opera, they are told with suggestive, allusive forms, shapes and a energetic way of mastering the paint itself. Liu Shuishi is represented by Chase Contemporay Gallery, New York.

RAPHAEL MAZZUCCO | THE NEVER ENDING SUMMER

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WALL STREET INTERNATIONAL - SEPTEMBER 13, 2018

For the past 25 years, Canadian photographer Raphael Mazzucco has garnered acclaim from the international fashion community for his notable portraits of celebrities and models shot for leading brands, publications, and campaigns including Victoria’s Secret, Guess Jeans, Ralph Lauren, and Bergdorf Goodman, among others. Since foraying his talents into a fine art career, Mazzucco’s mixed-media works that couple fashion iconography with photographic assemblage have been met with widespread praise from the art world following a two-year tour of exhibitions that traveled the globe.

His overarching visual narratives are strongly inspired by the female form, set against a backdrop of remarkable landscapes spanning continents, from Icelandic glaciers to African wildlife, the outback of Western Australia to Vietnamese rice paddies. He incorporates these cinematized natural forms into complex and layered compositions through the methodical application of paint, collage, and hand-lettered texts. This personalized technique has earned Mazzucco a unique place in today’s contemporary art world.

Raphael’s groundbreaking career is illustrated in full color in a new collector’s edition book; The Never-Ending Summer. The book includes stunning behind-the-scenes photography and exclusive memoirs from Raphael’s closest family, as well as anecdotes from models and muses he has worked with.

Mazzucco has had major exhibitions all across the world, including Milan, Florence, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Singapore, Los Angeles, Art Basel in Miami and New York City, all met with critical recognition. He has produced artwork and photo essay book collaborations with music impresario, Jimmy Lovine and rap producer, Sean “Diddy” Combs, who are also personal collectors of his work. His photographs have also appeared across some of the world’s most noted media – Vogue, Playboy, Vanity Fair and Sports Illustrated to name a few.

Raphael’s work is currently on view for a traveling exhibition in Italy with a final stop in Rome. Simultaneously, he kicked-off a month-long exhibition in London’s esteemed Castle Fine Art, Mayfair. The tour continues at Chase Contemporary and will conclude at a major show in Los Angeles.