Patrick Nagel 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, which has been acclaimed as one of the greatest album covers of all time.
Nagel was born in Dayton, Ohio, on November 25, 1945, 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, 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.
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.
Nagel produced album covers for recording artists such as Tommy James, Charlene, Thelma Houston and Cissy Houston. 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.
Nagel contributed to Playboy magazine between August 1975 until July 1984, regularly contributing with one painting being published per every issue of the magazine, 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. 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. 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.
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". His female figures tended to have black hair, and bright white skin. 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.
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.
Art historians have speculated that he may have been influenced by Japanese-style art, but there is no specific evidence for that. His mapmaking experiences in Vietnam possibly did more to steer him into high contrast imagery than anything else.
Nagel died February 4, 1984, after participating in a 15-minute celebrity "aerobathon" to raise funds for the American Heart Association in Santa Monica. An autopsy determined his cause of death was a heart attack, and a further autopsy revealed that Nagel had a congenital heart defect that went undetected his entire life. He was survived by his wife, Jennifer Dumas, and his daughter from a previous marriage, Carole Nagel LaVigne. Against his parents' wishes and through no direction attributable to him, Patrick Nagel was cremated and his ashes scattered over the Pacific Ocean.