Patrick Nagel

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Patrick Nagel
BornNovember 25, 1945
DiedFebruary 4, 1984(1984-02-04) (aged 38)
Alma materChouinard Art Institute
California State University, Fullerton
Known forIllustration

Patrick Nagel (November 25, 1945 – February 4, 1984) was an American artist and illustrator. He created popular illustrations on board, paper, and canvas, most of which emphasize the female form in a distinctive style, descended from Art Deco and Pop art. He is best known for his illustrations for Playboy magazine and the pop music group Duran Duran, for whom he designed the cover of the best-selling album Rio.

Early life and education[edit]

Nagel was born in Dayton, Ohio, on November 25, 1945,[1] 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,[2] 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.[1]


Illustration and design[edit]

Duran Duran performing in 2015 with the "Rio" album artwork as a stage backdrop.

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.[citation needed]

Nagel produced album covers for recording artists such as Tommy James,[3] Charlene,[4] Thelma Houston[5] and Cissy Houston.[6] Nagel's 1982 painting for the album cover of rock group Duran Duran's hit album Rio became one of his better known images.

He worked for many commercial clients, including Intel, Lucky Strike cigarettes, Ballantine's Whiskey, and Budweiser.[citation needed]

Nagel contributed to Playboy magazine between August 1975 until July 1984, regularly contributing with one painting being published per every issue of the magazine,[7] most notably in the Playboy Advisor, Playboy Forum and Playboy After Hours columns. This helped to improve his exposure to a wider audience and encouraged the popularity of "the Nagel Woman" image. He created roughly 285 pieces of art work for Playboy during his career.[7] In the beginning of his work with Playboy, he was given very specific illustration instructions, but that stopped sometime between 1977 and 1978, and instead switched working style to Nagel submitting his work for approval before publication.[7] In 1993, roughly nine years after Nagel's death, his widow Jennifer Dumas went into litigation with Playboy over the rights of the artwork published in its magazine. See Playboy Enterprises, Inc. v. Dumas.[7]

Nagel Woman[edit]

In 1977, he made his first poster image for Mirage Editions, with whom he printed many images, his most famous being those of "Nagel women." The "Nagel woman" was developed over time[specify] and increased in popularity after Nagel began publishing his work with Playboy in 1975. The women were drawn as "Nagel's ideal woman".[8] His female figures tended to have black hair, and bright white skin.[9] Nagel worked with many models, including Playboy Playmates Cathy St. George, Tracy Vaccaro and Shannon Tweed, and also painted several celebrity portraits, including those of Joan Collins and Joanna Cassidy.[8]

There has been much discussion about from where Nagel drew his style; however, since little is known about Nagel's art background, there is no definite answer as to the sources of his stylistic inspiration.

"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."

— Elena G. Millie, curator of the poster collection at the Library of Congress, [10]

Art historians have made the connection that he was influenced by Japanese style art, but there are no significant links connecting Nagel to Japanese artistry. His mapmaking experiences in Vietnam possibly did more to steer him into high contrast imagery than anything else.[8]

Death and legacy[edit]


Nagel died February 4, 1984, after participating in a 15-minute celebrity "aerobathon" to raise funds for the American Heart Association in Santa Monica.[11][12] An autopsy determined his cause of death was a heart attack,[11] and a further autopsy revealed that Nagel had a congenital heart defect that went undetected his entire life.[8] He was survived by his wife, Jennifer Dumas, and his daughter from a previous marriage, Carole Nagel LaVigne.[11] Against his parents' wishes and through no direction attributable to him, Patrick Nagel was cremated and his ashes scattered over the Pacific Ocean.[8]


Nagel's manager, Karl Bornstein, president of Mirage Editions Inc., attempted to continue publication of Nagel's works, but succeeded only in exploiting the brand and dramatically lowering its value.[8] None of the Estate Collection, Playboy Collection or associated accumulations of his work featured Patrick Nagel's signature.[citation needed] Some were authenticated by his widow, but none were deemed to have collectible value.[citation needed] In 1991, the FBI discovered and dismantled a counterfeiting ring which flooded the market with forged serigraphs.[8] By 1998, most of Nagel's work had been dismissed as dated and almost worthless, prompting up to 70% to be discarded, damaged or destroyed.[citation needed] By 2019, the market showed signs of a comeback, with some Nagel paintings valued at more than $100,000 USD and limited-run silkscreen posters selling for several thousand dollars.[13]

Nagel's works "capture the emotional state of an era: 1980s American desire, collective materialistic aspiration, a Less Than Zero state of mind," said Alex Israel, who Duran Duran hired to create the album art for their 2015 release Paper Gods, which visually references Nagel's famous Rio cover.[13] The passage of time has brought about a popular and critical reevaluation. "Completely recovered from his low period in the late '80s, his work now holds a place in the pop art tradition of Lichtenstein and Warhol," writes pop culture critic Jacob Shelton.[14]

In popular culture[edit]

  • Grand Theft Auto: Vice City appropriated Nagel's visual style for its distinctive packaging and advertising campaign.[15] The game became a cultural touchstone and the fastest-selling game in history at the time.[16]
  • In the comic series The Sandman, the character Desire of The Endless resembles a Nagel illustration.
  • In the Xavier: Renegade Angel episode "World of Hurt, BC", Xavier time travels to February 4, 1984, wherein one man announces that he just purchased a Nagel print. Another man then informs him that the artist had just died.
  • Nagel was portrayed on the American Dad! episode "Fart-Break Hotel".
  • The animated television series Moonbeam City drew inspiration from Nagel's portraits for its 1980s-influenced art style.[17]
  • In episode 2 of Helstrom, Satana Helstrom is described by her brother as looking like a "pissed off Patrick Nagel poster."[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b Reed, Walt (2001). The illustrator in America, 1860-2000. The Society of Illustrators. The Society of Illustrators. p. 391. ISBN 9780823025237. Retrieved May 6, 2020.
  2. ^ Nagel: The Art of Patrick Nagel. New York: Methuen. 1987. ISBN 978-0-912383-36-1.
  3. ^ "Tommy James – In Touch". Discogs.
  4. ^ "I' – The official web site of #1 hit singer Charlene Oliver".
  5. ^ "I've Got the Music in Me – Thelma Houston | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic.
  6. ^ "Cissy Houston - Think It Over". Discogs. Retrieved May 6, 2020.
  7. ^ a b c d Merryman, John Henry; Elsen, Albert Edward; Urice, Stephen K. (2007). Law, Ethics, and the Visual Arts. Kluwer Law International B.V. p. 544. ISBN 9789041125170.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Frankel, Rob (2016). The Artist Who Loved Women: The Incredible Life And Work Of Patrick Nagel. Los Angeles, CA: Frankel & Anderson. pp. 15–16, 101. ISBN 9780692685921.
  9. ^ Wagley, Catherine (July 27, 2014). "Patrick Nagel". LA Weekly. Retrieved May 6, 2020.
  10. ^ The Life and Art of Patrick Nagel from
  11. ^ a b c "Patrick Nagel". The New York Times. February 10, 1984. p. Section B, Page 4. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 6, 2020.
  12. ^ "AAAAA NAGEL IS A NAGEL". Los Angeles Times. June 13, 1999. Retrieved May 6, 2020.
  13. ^ a b Baum, Gary (February 15, 2019). "Why '80s Artist Patrick Nagel's Look Is Enjoying a Comeback". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 27, 2020.
  14. ^ Shelton, Jacob. "Patrick Nagel: Duran Duran's 'Rio' Artist And That '80s Look". Groovy History. Retrieved December 27, 2020.
  15. ^ "Patrick Nagel: Minimalist Pop Artist of the Decade or Canny Craftsman of Pervy Mall Art?". 80's Autoposy. Retrieved December 27, 2020.
  16. ^ Kushner, David (April 3, 2012). Jacked: The Outlaw Story of Grand Theft Auto. Turner Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0-470-93637-5.
  17. ^ Miller, Liz Shannon (September 16, 2015). "'Moonbeam City' Creator Scott Gairdner Reached For the Stars, and Got Rob Lowe". IndieWire. Penske Business Media, LLC. Retrieved June 10, 2021.

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