Happy Birthday To You - Patrick Nagel
It might be a cliché to suggest an artist needs no introduction, as most of them do. However, in the case of Dayton, Ohio native Patrick Nagel, who was born on November 25th in 1945 and died at the age of 38 on February 4, 1984, the art itself is widely and instantly recognised - it's just the name and story of the artist that needs to be explained.
Chances are you have seen the work of the American illustrator at least once before, and depending on your reading material, quite possibly many times, for it was Nagel who co-created the iconic cover of Duran Duran's bestselling Rio album, in addition to illustrating on a freelance basis for a wide range of major corporations and magazines.
Nagel's work itself generally focused on the female form, depicting cool, mysterious and sophisticated-looking women in a minimalist manner that owed as much to 1920s and 1930s Art Deco in its sharp, geometric simplicity, as it did to the much more recent Pop Art movement. Comparisons could also be drawn with more historically distant art, from the Japanese woodblock print to the work of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Pierre Bonnard which was influenced by the same.
However, Nagel's creations weren't mere successors to past artistic celebrations of the female form, also charting the continued social evolution of women across two decades. While his 1970s depictions of women showed a certain softness and vulnerability, by the following decade, the defining characteristics were strength and self-assurance. Think 1990s “Girl-Power” 80s style.
Despite his birth in Ohio, Nagel was raised and generally lived in the Los Angeles area. He toured Vietnam in the 1960s, and by the end of the decade, had received a Bachelor of Arts degree in painting and graphic design from California State University, Fullerton. A teaching career at Art Center College of Design followed, as he also got to work on carving a name for himself in the worlds of commercial design and illustration.
The likes of Universal Studios, IBM, ITT Corporation and such publications as Rolling Stone, Architectural Digest and Harper's Magazine all called upon Nagel in his distinguished freelance career, with his touch for the female form helping to expose the 'Nagel Woman' to a bigger audience than ever before after he began contributing images to Playboy magazine in the late 1970s.
It all meant by the time Nagel painted that cover for Duran Duran in 1982, his legacy was more than established, his influence coming to be felt in music videos by David Bowie, George Michael and Robert Palmer. He died in Santa Monica, California, from a heart attack suffered after his participation in a 15-minute celebrity 'Aerobathon' fundraiser for the American Heart Association.