Talking Art and Richard Bernstein with Nile Cmylo of the Chelsea Hotel

Posted on: June 2nd, 2014 at 11:00 am by

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Nile Cmylo with Richard Bernstein at El Quijote

About a week ago, at a pop up gallery event in the Flatiron district, I ran into a woman who has turned out to be one of the loveliest people I have ever met. Nile Cmylo, a 25-year veteran and current resident of the Chelsea Hotel, is an exquisite fashion designer whose artistic abilities are evident in the clothing she makes. I was lucky enough to run into her, and we agreed to meet up the following week to talk shop. Our rendezvous was at El Quijote next to the Chelsea; four hours of conversation later I was catching a cab home.

We spoke about the sacrifice of being an artist and the compromise involved in signing a work for hire contract – needing the money but selling your soul. Warhol’s Interview magazine cover artist Richard Bernstein is a prime example, and as Nile’s friend, she observed and learned from his struggle.

The following was written by Nile Cmylo following our meet-up, and goes into detail about Bernstein and specifically the work for hire agreements artists are often faced with:

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Nile Cmylo and Richard Bernstein

You can sign away recognition, money from reproductions, and rights to your artwork in general by signing a work for hire contract. You get paid but it can break your heart. There were many life stories affected by a work for hire contract when I first moved into the Chelsea Hotel 25 years ago. This is about one of the most notable artists.

Richard Bernstein was one of the first people I met when 25 years ago, I moved into the Chelsea Hotel. He had been living the life of a recluse for a few years prior and was coming out if his cocoon to try for a career resurgence.

The serious gig of his life was the Interview Magazine covers from 1972-1987 and then a few guest covers thereafter. Educated as a fine artist – these were commercial. He airbrushed photographs of the celebrity of the month to look like a painting. It was common in those days to catalogue your life by the current Interview cover – the young architect lover whilst Jack Nicholson reigned over the magazine stands. It was the look of the day. The secret to those covers was that the eyes seemed to follow you – this was by design. The Interview logo was/is Richard’s signature and has since become a font.

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Nile Cmylo by Richard Bernstein

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Nile Cmylo by Richard Bernstein

Richard had signed a work for hire contract with Interview. This meant that he relinquished his rights and ownership to the Interview covers he executed in exchange for money. It sounds way more fair than it is and oftentimes the type of work that employs a work for hire contract takes a different timber as a body of work. When I first met Bernstein in 1989, he was beginning to realize the value of the body of work that was his Interview covers. In the truest Warhol style, they featured the hottest celebrity of the moment that was magically airbrushed – but in a highly stylized painting way – and graced all the magazine stands in the land. It was magical. Bernstein did enjoy a local New York celebrity but was always nipping at the heels of real fame. In a way, the work for hire contract kept Richard just under the meniscus. He rubbed elbows with many celebrities and several were real friends. He had some wonderful moments. He had some crap moments as well.

During the 90s, Richard catalogued the original artwork of the Interview covers. He also earned money painting Interview cover styled portraits. He got a lot of commissions for those and they kept him rubbing celebrity elbows as well as having gallery shows of his paintings.

In the early 90s Bernstein started petitioning the Warhol estate to credit him with the artwork on the Interview covers in the museum. It was a fight; both legal and emotional but he fought like he was fighting for his life and ultimately won.

He died in October 2002.

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Nile Cmylo

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A letter for Nile by Richard when she was applying for an Arts Grant.

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