Patrick Nagel was born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1945 and was raised in Los Angles,
California. After serving the United States Army in Vietnam, he studied fine art at
the Chouinard Art Institute. In 1969, he received a bachelor of fine arts degree in
painting and graphic design from California State University, Fullerton.
In 1971, Nagel started working as a graphic designer for ABC-TV, where he produced television graphics for promotion and news broadcasts. The following year, he returned to freelance assignments accepting commissions from major corporations and magazines such as IBM, ITT, United Artists, MGM, Universal Studios, Playboy, Architectural Digest, Rolling Stone, Oui, and Harpers.
In 1976, Nagel began to regularly contribute images to Playboy magazine, which he established himself as an artist of the iconic image of an 80's woman to a large audience. During the years working with Playboy, he established himself as the next Alberto Vargas. In 1978, he created his first poster image for Mirage Editions. He painted the cover of Duran Duran’s “Rio” album in 1982.
In 1984, he participated in a 15-minute celebrity Aerobathon on TV to raise funds for the American Heart Association. Afterward, he walked out to his car and had a heart attack and died. He was 38 years old.
During his lifetime, Nagel had several solo shows. His first exhibition was attended by 4,000 people and his paintings were sold out within 15 minutes. His posters have been collected by the Library of Congress, the Oakland Museum, and the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts at UCLA. Permanent collections of his work are housed at the Bibliotheque des Arts Decoratifs, Paris, and the Smithsonian Institution. The largest collection of his work belongs to Hugh Hefner at the Playboy Mansion. For his artwork, Nagel received recognition from Communication Arts, Art Direction, and Graphis.
In the history of pin-up art, Nagel was a big break from the past. He changed the perception of traditional women as a pin-up art subject. His images reflect the rapidly changing role of women in American society. The subtle changes in his images can be seen from the 1970s to the 1980s. His women of the ‘70s are shown as softer, more vulnerable, and innocent than his stronger, more self-assured women of the ‘80s. Elena G. Millie, curator of the poster collection at the Library of Congress, described Nagel's style of painting in the book, “The Art of Patrick Nagel”:
Like some of the old print masters (Toulouse-Lautrec and Bonnard, for example), Nagel was influenced by the Japanese woodblock print, with figures silhouetted against a neutral background, with strong areas of black and white, and with bold line and unusual angles of view. He handled colors with rare originality and freedom; he forced perspective from flat, two-dimensional images; and he kept simplifying, working to get more across with fewer elements. His simple and precise imagery is also reminiscent of the art-deco style of the 1920s and 1930s- its sharp linear treatment, geometric simplicity, and stylization of form yield images that are formal yet decorative.