Today is the 68th birthday of the artist Patrick Nagel. If you grew up in the 80’s or have ever been to a nail salon in a strip mall, you know his work. You probably didn’t know his story, which is where I come in. I love the stylized era of his work, it takes me right back to watching music videos on MTV. I think of Remington Steele, huge brick cell phones, and Duran Duran. I hope this helps you appreciate his work and gives you a fuller understanding of the man behind the woman in sunglasses.
Patrick Nagel (November 25, 1945 – February 4, 1984) was an American artist. He created popular illustrations on board, paper, and canvas, most of which emphasize the simple grace of and beauty of the female form, in a distinctive style descended from Art Deco. He is best known for his illustrations for Playboy magazine, and the pop group Duran Duran, for whom he designed the cover of the best selling album Rio.
Nagel was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1945, but was raised and spent most of his life in the Los Angeles area. After serving in the United States Army with the 101st Airborne in Vietnam, Nagel attended the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles in 1969, and in that same year he received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from California State University, Fullerton.
In 1971, Nagel worked as a graphic designer for ABC Television, producing graphics for promotions and news broadcasts. The following year, he began work as a freelance artist for major corporations and magazines, including Architectural Digest, Harper’s Magazine, IBM, ITT Corporation, MGM, Oui, Rolling Stone, United Artists, and Universal Studios.
In 1976, Nagel began to regularly contribute images to Playboy magazine, which improved his exposure and the popularity of “the Nagel Woman” image to a huge audience. In 1978, he made his first poster image for Mirage Editions, with whom he would print many Nagel women images.
Nagel’s 1982 painting for the album cover of rock group Duran Duran’s hit album Rio would become one of his best known images.
He also worked for many commercial clients, including Intel, Lucky Strike cigarettes, Ballentine Whiskey, and Budweiser. As his popularity grew he began offering limited edition prints of his work.
Nagel would start with a photograph and work down, always simplifying and removing elements which he felt were unnecessary. The resulting image would look flat, but emphasized those elements which he felt were most important.
According to Elena G. Millie, curator of the poster collection at the Library of Congress:
Like some of the old print masters (Toulouse-Lautrec and Bonnard, for example), Nagel was influenced by the Japanese woodblock print, with figures silhouetted against a neutral background, with strong areas of black and white, and with bold line and unusual angles of view. He handled colors with rare originality and freedom; he forced perspective from flat, two-dimensional images; and he kept simplifying, working to get more across with fewer elements. His simple and precise imagery is also reminiscent of the art-deco style of the 1920s and 1930s- its sharp linear treatment, geometric simplicity, and stylization of form yield images that are formal yet decorative.
Nagel’s figures generally have black hair, bright white skin, full-lipped mouths, and the distinctive Nagel eyes, which are often squared off in the later works. Because of the intense stylization and reduction of facial features into clean lines, generally the figures resemble each other, though Nagel worked with many models, including Playboy Playmates Cathy St. George, Tracy Vaccaro and Shannon Tweed. Nagel also painted several celebrity portraits including those of Joan Collins (whose portrait was subsequently released as a limited edition print) and Joanna Cassidy.
In 1984, at the age of 38, the artist participated in a 15-minute celebrity “Aerobathon” to raise funds for the American Heart Association. Afterwards, he was found dead in his car, and doctors determined by autopsy that he had suffered a heart attack.