"I remember when he (Patrick Nagel) first photographed me he remarked that my lips were my most outstanding facial feature. He said they seemed to have an anatomy of their own. Never have lips felt so naked. He had a way of seeing every detail and revealing them all on canvas".
(actress Joan Collins as quoted in E. Millie, Nagel: The Art of Patrick Nagel, New York, 1985, p. 16)
Patrick Nagel's painting is sensual and empathetic, his love of the female form is equal to his compassion for the psychological complexity of his subjects. His work is as stylistically accomplished as that of the more recognized POP artists like Tom Wesselmann, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. Many of these artists treat women as decorative or passive objects within primarily abstract and ornamental settings. Nagel, on the other hand, has created a body of work that heightens our connection with the subject and overall composition. He can play the voyeur but often his figures connect with the viewer through powerful features and a wanton stare. Nagel's compositional elements, drop shadows, flat color and tilted squares would be enough in an abstract setting to leave an impression on the history of western art. The fact that he used these devices to push forward a much more complex psychological subject only further reveals his unique genius.
Like many of the Pop artists that were working simultaneously through the 1980s, Nagel produced work that was purely the product of his own unique sensibilities. Nagel, like many of his peers, supported himself partially through commercial work, in his case by providing artwork for magazines like Playboy and commissions for publications like Harper's and Psychology Today. Due to these associations Nagel's work is often mistaken as illustration which carries an unfairly disapproving bias. Like Warhol and Wesselmann, Nagel's output can only be judged by the quality of his work, arbitrary labels cannot continue to dictate the limits of our appreciation for the work of any particular artist.
Nagel's work is reminiscent of Japanese woodblock prints as well as Erté's art deco figures. There are also similarities to Robert Mangold's highly reductive geometric canvases which merge line and color, specifically unnamable colors chosen for the fact that the color could not be easily summarized verbally. Nagel's figures are recognizably of their time, intensely nostalgic yet timeless and fresh in their directness. The decade of the 1980's would have been completely different and less alluring without Nagel's contributions to that period of cultural and creative history. Nagel's fame is intricately tied to that of the legendary New Romantic or New Wave band Duran Duran, their record breaking 1982 album Rio of 1984, for which he produced the album cover, carried both the band and Nagel to new heights of recognition and stardom.
Nagel's life and career was cut short by a fatal heart attack in 1984 at the relatively young age of 38. Like a vampire, by all accounts, he was primarily active at night painting and drawing till the wee hours of the morning, smoking too much with a steady diet of cheeseburgers. Like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, also synonymous with the 1980s, his career was cut short by an early death and while Nagel was prolific there are relatively few works in circulation. Those who are lucky enough to own an original work are unlikely to part with them. The sincerest form of flattery is imitation. Nagel did not only reflect the fashion and style of his time, he influenced it. There is evidence of this throughout the 1980s ranging from Annie Potts character Iona from the classic John Hughes film, Pretty in Pink to Rachael the Replicant in Ridley Scott's classic film Blade Runner.
Nagel's works are held in the permanent collections of the Library of Congress, The Smithsonian Institution and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris among others.
Patrick Nagel, Joan Collins, serigraph, 1982
Artwork ©Estate of Patrick Nagel 2014.
Patrick Nagel, Rio, 1982
Artwork ©Estate of Patrick Nagel 2014.