Most people assume that Andy Warhol designed the covers for Interview, the magazine he founded in 1969 with British journalist John Wilcock—and it’s no wonder they do, given that Andy Warhol’s signature is on every single one of them. But in actuality, it was the artist Richard Bernstein, a contemporary of Warhol’s and a vibrant member of New York’s downtown scene before his death in 2002, who created the magazine’s most iconic covers using a mixture of collage, photography, and paint that transformed the merely young and famous into absolute supernovas.
“He basically did Photoshop by hand,” says Roger Padilha, who co-authored Richard Bernstein STARMAKER, a book on the artist’s legacy released by Rizzoli this month, with his brother, Mauricio Padilha. “He took these fabulous photographs and made them even more spectacular. He made these beautiful movie stars even more beautiful and sparkly. Bernstein was the maximum.”
Born in the Bronx on October 31, 1939, and raised in Roslyn, New York, by glamorous, well-off parents, who recognized his talent early and enrolled him in art classes at the Museum of Modern Art, Bernstein received an education in fine art first at the Pratt Institute, where he enrolled in 1958, and later at Columbia University, where he received an MFA. He was not only talented, but also good-looking. As a result, he was readily welcome at Andy Warhol’s Factory, as well as Max’s Kansas City and Studio 54, where he passed the time when he wasn’t making art experimenting with drugs, hanging out with celebrities, and teasing sugar daddies. But it was really his relationship with Grace Jones that jumpstarted his career.
Sy and Eileen Berlin, who owned the record label Beam Junction, introduced Jones to Bernstein in 1976. Soon after, he designed the cover for her debut single, “I Need a Man.” The image, which graces the cover of Richard Bernstein STARMAKER, introduced the world to Jones as she still is today—a dazzling, cosmic being who has chosen to reveal herself to humans for the purposes of enlightening them about the sublime. The pair went on to collaborate on multiple album covers until Bernstein’s death. Jones, who wrote the introduction for the book, notes: “Richard’s art made you look unbelievable. Everything he did was beautiful—the colors, the airbrushing—he could make something out of nothing. Out of your base. You didn’t have to go in already made up for him. In a lot of these pictures, I didn’t have much makeup on, actually. He did the makeup on you. And it was magic.”
Bernstein was instrumental in cementing Grace Jones as a pop culture icon—and she was also vital to his career. By the time they met, Bernstein’s relationship with Interview had become strained. He was nervous to submit the covers, which often underwent multiple edits before they were published, diluting their original mastery. Jones began accompanying him to meetings. When she was holding his hand, he received less criticism. Soon, she persuaded Warhol himself to stop editing Bernstein’s work and just let him create. The cover Bernstein designed immediately afterward, for the September 1976 issue that featured Diana Ross, became Interview’s best-selling issue to date. Bernstein continued to design covers until 1989, totaling 120.
Jones and Bernstein remained loyal to each other throughout their careers. Jones, for all of her power, has a motherly side, which Padilha discovered when he traveled to Jamaica to interview the elusive Jones for the book. At the GoldenEye resort, she taught Padilha how to swim in a lagoon and then plied him with bottles of wine before finally granting him the interview at 1 AM. “She lives her life in a very strong, independent way, but also likes to teach people how to live that way too,” says Padilha. Bernstein went on to paint the portraits of every major celebrity of the era—subjects include Bianca Jagger, Brigitte Bardot, Cher, Eddie Murphy, Tom Cruise, and Jackie Kennedy. Grace Jones stayed Grace Jones. But the two never lost their connection. “They were really family,” explains Padilha. “Their kind of creative relationship is what’s missing in the world today.”
Richard Bernstein STARMAKER by Roger and Mauricio Padhilla is available now via Rizzoli.