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Patrick Nagel (American, 1945-1984)

Art

Birth Place: Dayton, Ohio

Biography:
Patrick Nagel was a commercial artist known for his art deco-inspired portraits. His illustrations for Playboy and the album cover for Rio by Duran Duran brought him instant fame and popularity. The “Nagel Woman”, with her jet-black hair and aloof beauty, has become an iconic image of the eighties.

Patrick Nagel (November 25, 1945 - February 4, 1984) was born in Dayton, Ohio. As a child, he moved to Los Angeles where, apart from college, he would spend the rest of his life. He studied art at the Chouinard Art Institute before receiving a BFA from California State Fullerton in 1969. After coming back from Vietnam where he was a paratrooper, he began working as a freelance artist and graphic designer, first for ABC, then later for MGM, Universal Studios, United Artists and Architectural Digest.

His work was a highly imaginative reinterpretation of the art deco tradition, with restrained colors and minimalist lines that proved to be extremely popular with magazine editors. Nagel was inspired by the pre-Raphaelite painters, Japanese woodblock prints, and current trends in fashion photography. These influences were all on display from the beginning of his career. His artistic process involved creating a simplified drawing of a model based on a photograph. Nagel would translate these images with bold dark lines, shaping perspective with cool colors, white space, with as few other elements as possible.

In 1974, Nagel came into national prominence when his art appeared in Playboy magazine. While not initially in every issue, Nagel’s prints eventually appeared monthly from 1975 up until his death in 1984. Playboy published hundreds of Nagel’s illustrations. His art seemed to channel the emotions of the eighties better than anyone.

Nagel’s outlines, cropped composition, and subdued color palette became hallmarks of the period, a time capsule of cool. L.A. conceptual artist, Alex Israel, perhaps states it best. “[Nagel] captures the emotional state of an era,” he says. “1980s American desire, collective materialistic aspiration, a Less Than Zero state of mind.”

It was during this time that Hollywood came calling. Beside the Duran Duran album cover, magician David Copperfield and actress Joan Collins both commissioned multiple pieces from Nagel for their personal collections. Never one to distinguish between high art and commercial work, Nagel was amused by his own popularity during his lifetime. After his death, his work was collected by the Library of Congress, the Oakland Museum, and UCLA. He has permanent collections at the Smithsonian Institution and the Bibliotheque des Arts Decoratifs in Paris.

While his artistic career was cut tragically short at the age of 38, Nagel’s prints remained popular. Indeed, a recent resurgence in his artistic influence on television and animation has seen another rise in his popularity in this last decade. No matter the format, a Nagel print is instantly recognizable and timeless.

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