Purple Art

[October 5 2018]

Q&A with Mauricio and Roger Padilha at the Richard Bernstein retrospective “FAME” at Jeffrey Deitch gallery, New York

Launching this month is the late artist RICHARD BERNSTEIN’s first full monograph, “Starmaker,” created by MAURICIO and ROGER PADILHA and published by Rizzoli. Known for his indelible covers for Interview magazine during its heyday in the ’70s and ’80s, he had an unparalleled talent for making his subjects look larger than life.

To coincide with the book’s release Jeffrey Deitch gallery is showcasing a retrospective of BERNSTEIN’s work.

PAIGE SILVERIA — How did this all come about?
MAURICIO AND ROGER PADILHA — We were contacted by this guy Rory, Richard Bernstein’s nephew. He said he loved the other books that we’d done and wanted us to do a book on his uncle. It was like hitting the jackpot. We had had a list of ten subjects to make books about for like years and Richard was fourth on the list! It was really weird; Rory reaching out just came out of the blue. And to compound that, the day before, Rizzoli had asked us what we wanted to do next. At first Rory didn’t believe that Richard was already on our list, but then we showed him the handwritten note.

PAIGE SILVERIA — Oh wow! It was meant to be.
MAURICIO AND ROGER PADILHA — Our art books usually move very smoothly. They have a common thread that moves through them; they’re all New York artists from the ’60s ’70s, ’80s. They’re all underdogs who really haven’t gotten credit for what they’ve accomplished, which is really a result of the Internet; they all passed away before it arrived. A lot of the subjects in our books have collaborated with each other as well. It’s a small scene in New York and I think that we are becoming known for making books on that particular scene.

PAIGE SILVERIA — So tell me about Richard.
MAURICIO AND ROGER PADILHA — Initially, we didn’t know much about him other than what he’d done for Interview magazine. We discovered that he was one of the Pop Art pioneers of the ’60s. Things didn’t turn out as well for him though as they did for Andy Warhol and the others. He eventually stopped painting — he’d had someone supporting him in his work and then that person disappeared so he had to begin supporting himself — and became a commercial artist, which he did very very well at. At the time, you couldn’t be a commercial artist and a respected fine artist. You had to choose one or the other.

PAIGE SILVERIA — This is when he began working for Interview?
MAURICIO AND ROGER PADILHA — Andy had always been a fan of Richard’s work and is quoted as saying that he’s his favorite artist. So when Interview started to change direction — it was initially an underground film and poetry magazine — and they decided to make it about celebrities instead. So they brought Richard in and he began to art direct all of the covers — something like 189 covers between 1972 to 1989. From ’72 to ’74 it was mostly art direction of the covers; ’74 he began painting and making people look better. By ’77, he really got that signature look down. He was known for making people look more famous than they were. It was before Photoshop and he made people look like idols. He always tried to get back into painting, but it just didn’t happen for him.

PAIGE SILVERIA — It’s so unfair, as Andy was able to.
MAURICIO AND ROGER PADILHA — He was the only person who was able to do it. He really opened the door. Then there was Keith Haring’s Pop Shop. You could buy anything by him — t-shirts, pins, etc. Nowadays, Jeff Koons puts his stuff on Louis Vuitton bags. All of these big artists are able to have stuff at a museum and a retail store simultaneously.

PAIGE SILVERIA — I’m sure that it didn’t help Richard that people confuse his work for Andy’s.
MAURICIO AND ROGER PADILHA — Of course another thing that puts a shadow over him is that a lot of people think that Andy did those covers. It didn’t help too that people would have Andy sign them. But for us, after exploring his work, we realized that he was really adept at any medium. He could paint, draw sew, design, style and even cook at really really high levels. We didn’t think this book could be done initially, because we thought it would just be Interview covers. But Interview is a mere two chapters in our book — he did so much other stuff. He was also very influential socially. He traveled through different worlds. He hung out with society people, you know, he’d go to a dinner on Park Avenue. Then he’d go to Studio 54. And after he’d go to the leather clubs down here. He kind of knew everyone. Everyone knew him; he was a big party guy. He was this person who could move through so many different circles.  He really connected a lot of people together. For instance, he introduced Grace Jones to Jean Paul Gould. And Diana Vreeland was a huge fan of him. She had him do pretty much all of the posters for the Met galas. A lot of people said he’d recommended them for their job. He was like the man behind the curtain, orchestrating everything. At the same time, while he’s functioning on all of these high levels, he was also a huge drug addict. That ultimately was what took his life.

PAIGE SILVERIA — Which drugs?
MAURICIO AND ROGER PADILHA — He was on a lot of cocaine and he eventually got into heroin. At the very end, it was meth. He lived at the Chelsea Hotel in the ballroom, a huge 5,000 square-foot space on the ground floor. He lived there for 40 years. Back then though of course the Chelsea was a terrible place to live. On the second floor a drug dealer had set up his space like a bodega; it made it very easy for Richard to maintain his addictions.

PAIGE SILVERIA — Wow what a prosperous business. Great location to be a drug dealer.
MAURICIO AND ROGER PADILHA — The police knew of course but turned a blind eye. But it’s amazing how much work he was able to turn out while on drugs.

PAIGE SILVERIA — Do you think his relationship with Andy was beneficial or do you think it was actually his demise?
MAURICIO AND ROGER PADILHA — That’s the question! It’s 50/50. If it wasn’t for Andy, we wouldn’t have known who he was. That was our intro to him. That kept him financially sound as well. But it also hindered him from becoming a major artist. But then when you think of the actors in Andy’s films like Candy Darling, would they have made it without being in the movies?

PAIGE SILVERIA — I guess we’ll never know!
MAURICIO AND ROGER PADILHA — So at the same time as the magazine, he was also doing Grace Jones’ album covers. And Andy was like why is what you’re doing for Grace so much better than what you’re doing for Interview? And Grace said to him that they were always giving Richard notes and directing him to change things, while she just let him do what he wanted. She trusted him to make something incredible. So from then on, Andy said that he could have free reign. And the first cover that Richard had full control over, with Diana Ross, it became the biggest-selling issue of the magazine at that point.

PAIGE SILVERIA — Tell me about his early work.
MAURICIO AND ROGER PADILHA — It was like Abstract Pop Art. He did pill paintings and a lot of celebrity mash-ups. It was very similar to what Andy was doing at the time. And we had been aware of these paintings but we had thought they came later; we thought he was a protege of Andy’s. But they were actually happening concurrently. By ’63 or ’64 Andy was definitely selling his artwork in galleries. Richard was nine years younger. He did a show as soon as he graduated from SVA. So they were making the same stuff at the same time. And the pills that Richard was painting; they’re so cliche now, incorporating drugs and pills, but Richard was really the first one to go there — especially in the Pop world. For Warhol, he came up with the soup cans because it was something he saw every day. Well Richard did drugs every day. That was his world and he painted it in the same way.

PAIGE SILVERIA — What was his process?
MAURICIO AND ROGER PADILHA — Everything. Collage, colored pencils, airbrushing; he’d cut them out and paste them onto different colors. We had one that was falling apart — because these weren’t made to be artwork; they were made to be photographed for a magazine. But you can see the kind of layers that are involved. And this magazine was really influential. All of the big magazines were looking at it. And the covers were so impactful; you see his kind of thing become the norm in the ’80s and ’90s. And you know people would try to get into Studio 54, and couldn’t. But then there was this magazine. Everything from Studio 54 was inside of this magazine. It was celebrity culture. It was a way of getting in. People weren’t so invested in celebrity culture until this magazine.

PAIGE SILVERIA — How did you choose the flow of the book?
MAURICIO AND ROGER PADILHA — Well it’s funny, we’d always wanted to do a Wizard of Oz-themed book in that it starts in black and white and leads into color. And when we got in touch with Richard’s sister, she was saying that he was obsessed with the Wizard of Oz. His first show was all based on it, with Tin Man paintings and everything. So, of course we took it as a sign and did it. Then we kept getting little hints that we were going in the right direction.

MAURICIO AND ROGER PADILHA — For instance, when I went to Jamaica to interview Grace Jones for the book and I asked her how they all had met. And she said, “Well we all just followed the Yellow Brick Road.”

PAIGE SILVERIA — So how did things end with him and Interview?
MAURICIO AND ROGER PADILHA — When Warhol died, the new editor in chief had a new vision and wanted to do away with anything old Interview, so Richard was the first to be let go. Times were changing. So, now in his late 50’s, Richard started to focus on fine-art painting again. He had some commissions and had a few shows, but nothing really took off. When he passed away he was 62.

PAIGE SILVERIA What happened?
MAURICIO AND ROGER PADILHA — They found him at the Chelsea. Two weeks later. He had a little note next to him that said, “Do not resuscitate.” So whether it was suicide or not, he didn’t want to continue living.

PAIGE SILVERIA — What happened to all of his things?
MAURICIO AND ROGER PADILHA — His sister came and brought it to Connecticut. It’s been there in her basement since then! 25 years or so. She let us go in there and take a look at everything. We brought a photographer with us and spent like 18 hours in that basement.

PAIGE SILVERIA — What did you find down there?
MAURICIO AND ROGER PADILHA — I mean, he was friends with everyone, famous and not. So there would be a box of sweatshirts and then like original Antonio [Lopez] sketches. We went to the sister, like, “You should bring this stuff upstairs! This piece of paper is easily worth $10,000 and there are water pipes and things down here!” There were letters from Diana Vreeland and Farrah Fawcett. So anyway there was just so much stuff down there, it was impossible to include everything in the book.

PAIGE SILVERIA — How was it interviewing Grace Jones for the preface?
MAURICIO AND ROGER PADILHA — It was very difficult. She lives in Jamaica and there’s this hotel there that takes all of her phone messages. And it was only through a friend that we finally got a hold of her. Her and Richard were best friends. So I went out to Jamaica for a weekend … she taught me how to swim! Me in my underwear, her in her bikini, in this lagoon. It was magical.

PAIGE SILVERIA — And then the afterward is by Jean Paul Gould, her ex husband? Why did you ask him?
MAURICIO AND ROGER PADILHA — Well, Richard’s story with Jean Paul is that one day he went to Esquire to share his work and him and Jean Paul started chatting, he asked him what he was doing later that night. Richard had made a dress for Grace and he invited Jean Paul to join him to see her perform at this Diana Vreeland gala. So Jean Paul went and it was the first time he’d ever seen Grace. Afterwards they went back to Richard’s apartment and Jean Paul and Grace fell in love. So that’s when she began to have Jean Paul make all of her covers instead of Richard. But once they divorced, she went back to Richard and he again did everything for her. And you know, Jean Paul said that Richard was never bitter about losing the work. He was always a gentleman.

PAIGE SILVERIA — What else did you hear about his personality?
MAURICIO AND ROGER PADILHA — You know, every single person that we interviewed, when we first asked them to tell us about Richard, they said some variation of: “Oh my god! He was so good looking!” And he was okay looking, but he wasn’t gorgeous … There must have been something about him that doesn’t read in the pictures. Or maybe people weren’t as good looking back then.

PAIGE SILVERIA — Less plastic surgery! Fewer options …
MAURICIO AND ROGER PADILHA — [Laughs] I think Richard just had a certain energy that brought people in, that was attractive … But also everyone sees him as a sad story; why didn’t he become like a Warhol or Lichtenstein? Hopefully with this book, we can educate everyone. We think that it was his spirit that closed down Interview and that he waited to do it just as we were going to release his book. You know? Because when it closed — of course before it was revealed that it was going to be relaunched — everyone was posting on Instagram RIP, like it was some person who was dying! And they weren’t posting any of the other covers; they were all Richard’s. Anyone who thinks of Interview thinks of him; his covers made that magazine iconic.

“Fame” is on view until October 27th, 2018 at Jeffrey Deitch gallery  76 Grand St, New York. Starmaker is available for purchase at the gallery.

Photo and interview Paige Silveria

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