You might not know his name, but we’re fairly certain you know his iconic work. During his prolific, but short career, Patrick Nagel created over 400 paintings and illustrations and invented the look of what we now call the Resting Bitch Face. A cross between a sensual Roy Lichtenstein and an erotic Leonardo da Vinci, his glossy, high-style art was ubiquitous with hair and nails salons and the 1980’s home art-deco craze. It was during the height of Nagel’s career, young and upwardly mobile professionals yearned for a better class of provocative art, and Nagel’s interesting, yet simplistic renderings, of stark fit the bill.
Combining high-fashion poses, Japanese woodblock techniques and angular, pastel-powered composition in his illustrations, garnered Nagel celebrity status and commissioned album covers for Duran Duran. Most of his illustration were published in Playboy during the late 70’s and early 80’s. Since the, his less-erotic works have appeared in shopping mall poster galleries, T-shirts, and have been turned into clip art for strip-mall beauty shops.
His limited edition prints, priced at about $35, spawned an entirely new audience and collector. Most of these people may not have known art, but they knew what they liked when they saw that it matched their faux-Deco furnishings. And it didn’t hurt that, say, a mauve and magenta model drawing (in a chrome or black lacquer frame) easily doubled as a coke-snorting surface during drug’s heyday. During the early 1980’s, his artwork was in an estimated two-million homes worldwide. Furniture designers called to find out which colors he’d be using next.
Nagel died of a heart attack at the age of 38 after participating in a charity aerobics tournament in Santa Monica, California—quite possibly the hippest way to drop dead in 1984 Los Angeles. Yet his influence on illustrators and our perception of ’80s culture lives on. It’s all over the place, but no one can seem to find it. Nagel’s 80’s ladies might not be on film, but at least now they’re on Wednesday nights in a new Comedy Central cop show called “Moonbeam City.”
For more information on Patrick Nagel, visit his estate’s website here.