After returning to New York in 1968, Bernstein found a loft in the Chelsea Hotel, where he lived and worked near photographer
and punk rocker
. He was also a regular at the infamous artist haunt Max’s Kansas City, where he rubbed elbows with luminaries like beat poet Allen Ginsberg and Pop-originator
. It was there, too, where Bernstein and Warhol’s friendship began.
While Bernstein had idolized Warhol for years, Warhol had only recently been introduced to the younger artist’s work—in particular, Bernstein’s no-holds-barred illustrations in Newspaper
, a queer art mag worked on by
and Steve Lawrence.
Famously, he filled one centerfold with a nude image of transgender Warhol superstar Candy Darling. In Bernstein’s vision, she floated naked and supine over plump white clouds, like a club-kid angel. (Warhol may have seen Bernstein’s notorious 1968 poster, too, in which Bernstein seamlessly collaged cutouts of the Beatles’ heads onto images of buff, nude bodies—the creative community loved it; the band’s lawyers did not.)
At the time, Warhol was rebranding the avant-garde film magazine inter/VIEW, which he’d founded with poet-actor Gerard Malanga in 1969. He wanted it to be less intellectual and more rowdy—and he needed a great illustrator to help him. Bernstein, with his knack for siphoning glamour and camp into bold imagery, was his man. “Andy, being one of the great illustrators himself, understood Richard’s brilliance and gave him a great platform,” said Deitch, who recently opened the retrospective of Bernstein’s work in New York. Before long, Warhol had entrusted his young protégé with the lofty task of designing the new Interview’s logo and covers; he’d even go on to call Bernstein his “favorite artist.”
Though the 32-year-old Bernstein had achieved some success with his paintings, the job skyrocketed him to the position of star illustrator and art director—not to mention one of Warhol’s right-hand men.
What’s more, Bernstein was portraying his heroes. For each issue, he created a cover featuring one of the magazine’s interviewees, whether a breakout athlete, emerging actor, or new socialite on the disco scene. Bernstein enhanced their best qualities, sometimes seeming to foresee their futures in the process. In his hands, Grace Jones, Lily Tomlin, and Richard Gere appeared immortal, signaling the megastars they’d eventually become. And in one 1985 cover of Madonna, he turned the wide-eyed, nascent musician into the iron-willed superstar of her future, accenting her with bold slashes of purple for eyebrows, a shock of neon-orange hair, and glowing skin.