Patrick Nagel

Kenny Ackerman

American, 1945 – 1984

Patrick Nagel was an American artist known for his popular illustrations which feature the simplified beauty of the female face in a distinctive style influenced by the clean linearity of Art Deco. He is perhaps best known for his illustrations for Playboy magazine, celebrity portraits, and for the cover of synthpop band Duran Duran’s 1982 album Rio.

Nagel was born in 1945 in Dayton, Ohio and spent most of his life in Los Angeles. In 1969, after serving in the United States Army in Vietnam, Nagel began attending the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles. He received a BFA from California State University, Fullerton that same year. 

In 1972, Nagel began his work as a freelance artist for a number of major corporations, including IBM, Lucky Strike, MGM, and Universal Studios. He produced freelance work for popular magazines as well, including Harper’s, Architectural Digest, and Rolling Stone. In 1976, Nagel began his regular contribution of images to Playboy magazine, through which the “Nagel Woman” gained exposure to a wide audience. As his popularity grew, Nagel began creating limited edition prints.

Nagel’s artistic process began with a photograph from which he would gradually remove elements, greatly simplifying the image, reducing its three-dimensionality, and leaving only those features he deemed important enough to capture the essence of the figure. His trademark style was one of stylization and clean linearity. Nagel’s trademark figures feature luminous white skin, coal black hair, and distinctive, cat-like eyes. His economy of means, geometric precision, and strong linearity is reminiscent of the Art Deco style of the 1920s and 1930s. 

According to Elena G. Millie, curator of the poster collection at the Library of Congress, Nagel was influenced by the ukiyo-e (Japanese woodblock print), which similarly captured the attention of 19th century artists such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and James Whistler. This style entailed broad areas of black and white, silhouetted figures, and unusual perspectives.

In 1984, Nagel participated in a celebrity “Aerobathon” to raise funds and awareness for the American Heart Association. He died from a heart attack shortly thereafter at the age of 38.