Patrick Nagel Beyond Duran Duran: Rediscovering His Clearly Defined Body of Work

Patrick Nagel - 'Lucky Strike' Acrylic on Illustration Board. Sold for $31,000 via Leonard Auction (March 2021) Patrick Nagel - 'Lucky Strike' Acrylic on Illustration Board. Sold for $31,000 via Leonard Auction (March 2021)
Patrick Nagel, Playboy illustrations from 1976-1989 issue (Flickr)

Patrick Nagel, Playboy illustrations from 1976-1989 issue (Flickr)

Capturing an essence of the 1980s aesthetic, Patrick Nagel’s blend of Art Deco and Pop Art oozed with the fashionable and sophisticated vibe of the era, which was enshrined with the production of Duran Duran’s Rio album artwork in 1982. Nagel’s iconic painting of cool detachment influenced fashion throughout the decade, but his body of work extends far beyond that iconic image and is currently enjoying a renaissance at auction.

“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,” Joan Collins, The Art of Patrick Nagel, 1985

Sensual and stylized with sharp lines, bold colors, and simplified forms of fashionably glamorous women, Patrick Nagel would be propelled to worldwide fame by Duran Duran’s Rio album and become synonymous with the 1980s aesthetic. Instantly recognizable and stylistically accomplished, the American born Pop Artist’s clean lines, flat color, and compositional elements would leave a crisp and sexualized impression on the history of Western art.

Artists like Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol are the obvious masters of Pop Art, but Nagel created a body of work that has a more immediate connection with the viewer, often thanks to the strong features and piercing stare of the enigmatic featured women that made him a unique artist. The sale of two million copies of Rio in the United States saw his work permanently etched into pop culture, but his distinctive body of work is not merely confined to a girl who dances on the sand.

Like so many before him, Nagel supplemented his income with commercial work, primarily for Playboy, and he regularly contributed to the magazine with approximately a painting in every issue between 1975 and 1984. It was during this time that he honed what would later become a public infatuation with the ‘Nagel Woman’. He also took commissions from Harper’s and Psychology Today, as well as various magazines, book covers, and advertisements. Because of his background though, Nagel’s art is often unfairly categorized as illustration, which cruelly separates him from his Pop Art equals.

From his Art Deco apartment in Talmadge, Koreatown, which was once home to Buster Keaton, Nagel created his iconic images. First photographing his models before inking his Pop-minimalist linework, Nagel is said to have sipped martinis and listened to Cole Porter while working. Embossed with the crisp sheen of the decade, Nagel’s style also draws its influence from Japanese woodblock prints, as well as Erté’s Art Deco figures. During a period of great cultural and creative change, Nagel’s work played a significant role in shaping the decade thanks to the alluring, cool sex of his art.

Patrick Nagel - Joan Collins. Sold for $118,750 via Christie’s (September 2019)

Patrick Nagel – Joan Collins. Sold for $118,750 via Christie’s (September 2019).

Joan Collins

By 1982 Joan Collins was a TV superstar, who had helped the soap opera Dynasty to become a worldwide phenomenon as the beautiful and vengeful ex-wife of oil tycoon Blake Carrington, Alexis Colby. Joan Collins was so enamoured with her portrait that she showed it off to Johnny Carson during a Tonight Show guest spot.

Collins was the perfect muse for Nagel and was the epitome of the trademark ‘Nagel Woman’ with her glamorous demeanour, black hair, bright white skin, and bold red lipstick. The painting remains a favorite of Collins’, who said on X (formerly Twitter) in 2019, “So happy that the fabulous artist Patrick Nagel is having a comeback! I LOVE his portrait of me.”

Patrick Nagel - Kristen.

Patrick Nagel – Kristen. Sold for $240,000 via Phillips (May 2019).


Perfectly encapsulating his reductive, Deco-infused aesthetic, Nagel’s Kristen portrait similarly embodies elements of the ‘Nagel Woman’ that helped the artist garner widespread popularity throughout the 1980s. With her jet black hair, pale complexion, and piercing eyes, Kristen evokes Nagel’s Duran Duran portrait, while her topless bust links the portrait with his years spent as a Playboy illustrator.

Patrick Nagel - Teddy.

Patrick Nagel – Teddy. Sold for $75,000 via Santa Monica Auctions (March 2019).


Like his Joan Collins and Kristen portraits, Teddy infuses Nagel’s trademark reductive aesthetic of a sultry woman with elements of Art Deco. The portrait exudes his sensual and stylized approach of bold colors and simplified forms that sit against the sharp lines of the model’s sharp triangle earrings. The shape, borrowed from his love of Art Deco, appeared in many of his portraits in various repetitive patterns.

Indelible Impression

Only two years after the release of his era-defining design for Duran Duran, Nagel would be dead after suffering a heart attack at a 15-minute celebrity aerobathon raising money for the American Heart Association in Santa Monica. Described as, “out of shape from too many martinis and frozen Snickers” in the Los Angeles Times, Nagel wouldn’t see the lasting impact of his art on popular culture that would come to define the cool, visual aesthetic of the new modern 1980s individual.

Not only reflecting the fashion and style of the era, Nagel influenced it throughout the decade, as his image of the stylized woman influenced the fashion of the era and was reflected in Annie Potts character Iona from the classic John Hughes film, Pretty in Pink. Capturing the spirit of his time through his unique artistic vision, his artistic legacy goes beyond his association with Duran Duran.

And after years in the shadow of his commercial success, the market for his works has enjoyed a resurgence in appreciation in recent years and by 2019, Nagel’s art began a renaissance at auction. His portrait of Joan Collins sold for $118,750, nearly doubling its estimate of $70,000 to $90,000, while Kristen smashed its estimate of $60,000 to $90,000 when it went under the hammer for $240,000.

Today recognized rightly as an artist of distinction who left an indelible impression on the history of Western art, questions over his categorization as an artist or designer would have left little impression on the artist; cigar in one hand, frozen snickers in the other. His wife, Jennifer Dumas explained her husband “wouldn’t be bothered a bit” by any debate over his work. “He loved what he did,” she said. “When someone wanted to argue whether it’s fine art or commercial art, he wasn’t interested.”

Sources: Twitter | Hollywood Reporter | | Christie’s | | | Phillips