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Aug 18

You Weren’t a Star in the ’70s or ’80s If Richard Bernstein Didn’t Do Your Portrait

Richard Bernstein: Starmaker will be published by Rizzoli on September 4th

Richard Bernstein: Starmaker will be published by Rizzoli on September 4th

Photo: Richard Bernstein / Courtesy of The Richard Bernstein Estate Archive

Brothers Roger and Mauricio Padilha keep a list of people they want to do books about. Having completed volumes on the designer Stephen Sprouse, the illustrator Antonio Lopez, and the photographer Chris von Wangenheim over the last decade, Richard Bernstein, the artist responsible for 189 covers of InterviewMagazine between 1972 and 1989 was near the top of it. Late last year, Bernstein’s nephew Rory Trifon reached out via Instagram to ask if they were interested.

Of course they were. But before they committed they wanted to know what Bernstein’s family had access to. The nephew said “not much.” The Padilhas, who live in New York City, made a pilgrimage to Connecticut anyway, and what they discovered was a basement packed floor to ceiling: crates of original artwork for Interview; little seen paintings Bernstein completed in the ’60s, including canvases of abstracted pills that look like they could’ve inspired Damien Hirst; and loads of ephemera—the highlight of which, for the Padilhas at least, was the Candy Darling fold-out poster Bernstein created for Newspaper, a short-lived, much-hyped periodical published in the late 1960s by Steve Lawrence. None of it had been touched since Bernstein’s 2002 death, when it was shipped from the Chelsea Hotel ballroom—kitchenless and bathroomless, but huge—where he lived for decades.

“There was enough there for two books,” says Roger. Mauricio agrees: “You can’t just do Interview, because he was so much more than that.” In the end, RICHARD BERNSTEIN: STARMAKER Andy Warhol’s Cover Artist (Rizzoli, September 4), wound up being about 40 percent Interview covers. And even those will be a revelation to many readers. It’s popularly thought that Warhol did them. “At that point you couldn’t be a commercial artist and a fine artist,” Mauricio explains of Warhol’s apparent reluctance to do the covers. “There was a huge stigma. But Andy loved Richard’s work. He’s even quoted a few times saying that Richard was his favorite artist.”

Sometimes Bernstein took the photo of the cover star himself, other times it was his close friend Bill King or Berry Berenson, to whom he was engaged for a time (and who later died tragically on Flight 11 on 9/11), but Bernstein was always on set and styling. “Because they were camera-ready art but not work that needed to last for a long time, he kind of used everything,” says Roger. “There’s some that have tape and Wite-Out, markers.” He also used an airbrush and pencils. “They’re collage-y. But the effect that they have is so polished once they’re printed.” They’re also iconic. Bernstein’s subjects were a who’s who of mid- and late-20th century superstars: Diana Ross, Cher, Mick Jagger, Debbie Harry, Michael Jackson, Madonna, and on and on. “He would take gorgeous people and make them even more gorgeous,” Roger says.

Bernstein had the looks and the charisma to match his glamorous subjects, but when Warhol died, his gig at the magazine more or less ended. In the ’90s, Bernstein moved away from celebrity portraiture, yet failed to find the success of his Interview years. He died in 2002, a victim of AIDS, a heart condition, or depression, it has never been determined.

The Padilhas did their research over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays last year. During his interviews, Roger discovered that Bernstein wasn’t just a terrific artist, he was a prolific connector, with friends in every creative strata. One of his early gallery appearances was a two-man show with John Loring, who would go on to become the design director of Tiffany & Co. for 30 years. Bernstein collaborated with Diana Vreeland when she was the Special Consultant of the Met’s Costume Institute. He worked with Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager on their first nightclub in Queens, The Enchanted Garden, and naturally became a regular at Studio 54. According to Chelsea Hotel lore, Bernstein organized orgies for Salvador and Gala Dali when they passed through town. And he did Grace Jones’s album covers before he introduced her to Jean Paul Goude, who would take Bernstein’s place as Jones’s fashion whisperer.

The cover of Jones’s single, 1977’s I Need a Man, is the cover of this book, and Jones wrote the foreword and Goude the epilogue. But it is Loring who captures Bernstein’s legacy best. He tells the Padilhas: Richard’s work was “a terrific social document of the times, of the celebrity worship of the times, of the look of the times, what celebrity was and wasn’t. He brings it all into very sharp focus. It’s a social document and an important one. And it’s extraordinarily graphically pleasing to look at and totally remarkable work.”

Loring and the Padilhas aren’t the only ones to think so. “Richard Bernstein: FAME,” an exhibition of the artist’s work that gathers 60 of the Interview covers as well as some of his large canvases, will open at Jeffrey Deitch’s Deitch Projects on September 7th.


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