I first became aware of Patrick Nagel at the local poster art shop. I was 13. Tall, slim, and brunette with small eyes and skin like paper, i was considered plain and borderline ugly in my southern california town. I despaired of ever being thought attractive. But then i saw her. What was she? 8″x10″? 10″x10″? She was beautiful, like a Snow White who had grown up and cast her evil step-mother in hot iron shoes while enjoying every minute of that bitch’s dance. She had no apologies. Not for herself and not for anyone else.
I was transfixed and time moved like amber behind me until an old man walked by and stopped. “It’s like looking in a mirror.” I turned and stared stupidly until i realized he was talking about me. Me. He wasn’t scary or particularly pervy or anything like that. Just an old man shopping for posters who took 5 seconds to be kind to a child-teen. I looked back at the beautiful little picture and then left. I walked home elated.
Patrick Nagel died in 1984 at the age of 38. Despite this, his work is ubiquitous with the 80s. So ubiquitous that it’s easy to forget its brilliance and beauty. Easy too, in our digital age, to dismiss Nagel’s technical skill. His method consisted of drawing from live models, refined until they possessed the cool graphic quality of a japanese woodblock print and then painted on board or canvas with acrylics. Acrylics. Not vectors in photoshop and illustrator. Actual paint on actual board. His lines are superb. And all the sunglass shops or manicure shops or drycleaners who use his graphic style can’t rob him of that.

I didn’t grow up to look like a Nagel, but i still find his women entrancing.
Nagel perfectly personified the 80s ideal of female beauty. His women are usually of middle height and slender, but in a vastly different way from the 60s or 70s. If you notice their wrists: these are not ladies with wrists of glass. Large breasts, straight waists, slim hips and shapely legs. Small intense eyes, large lips with a well defined cupid’s bow, thick hair, and his admitted favorite feature~ strong noses. There always seems to be something of Isabella Rossellini in all of them.

pencil preparation of the painting below.
Nagel felt the drawings were the fun part while painting was the labor.
He often donated paintings to models or editors who expressed admiration for his work.
He enjoying drawing and painting men as well. His assistant, Karl Bornstein reported that he didn’t need critical acknowledgment of what he did, bc he had such an intense love of just painting pictures,
He was influenced by high-fashion photographers and illustrators such as Joseph Leyendecker, Henry Raleigh, and Saul Tepper. Surprisingly, he loved Pre-Raphaelite paintings.
pencil sketch of the famous “Rio” cover.
“Texas” the painting that became Duran Duran’s “Rio” cover.
His wife, Jennifer Dumas, occasionally posed for him. Some believe her to the inspiration for the Nagel Woman. 
All superfluous details in the drawing above have been stripped away until only the great white expanse of her back remains, uncluttered by lines.
He never worked out and laughed at people who did. He ate cheeseburgers, candy bars, smoked constantly, stayed up all night, and painted. He participated in a televised benefit for the Heart Association by doing aerobics. Afterward he walked to his car, had a heart attack and died.






All images and information from “Nagel: the Art of Patrick Nagel.”

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