Monday, August 10, 2015

Nagel, Art, and Duran Duran

Today is officially Duran Duran Appreciation Day.

Yes, it's a real thing. Although one might argue that for fans, every day is an appreciation day as I've certainly demonstrated with numerous posts over the years. While I am eagerly anticipating the release of the band's new record Paper Gods, I thought that today I would take a different tack with a tribute post, one that looks at a subject integral to the band.


Specifically, the art of Patrick Nagel. In the collective public consciousness, a mention of the name Duran Duran might very well conjure up this image:

That is the cover to the band's 1982 landmark album, Rio. The cover art is by Patrick Nagel and few artistic styles are more distinctive. A painter and an illustrator, Nagel's work may suggest a basic comparison with Japanese woodblock prints, but there is the far heavier influence of Art Deco present on the canvas. The images themselves were somewhat reductionist in style. Nagel pared his subjects down to minimal lines and clear, open space. Yes, it's a definitively 1980s style. As a matter of fact, if you were shooting a film or still photo and wanted to signify that the scene was in that decade, having a Nagel on the wall of a room wouldn't be a bad way to add the signature. But oh do I miss the clean style.

In terms of subjects, it's obvious that Nagel loved women. Most of his portraits are of women and in fact Nagel had already done a fair portfolio of work for Playboy just before Duran Duran approached him for the Rio cover. Nearly all of his women bore full, raven manes of hair, pointed noses, and facial expressions indicating an aloofness, a seduction, and a smoldering intelligence. They were strong and realized beings. They also had androgynous qualities to them in the classical Greek sense.

Androgyny is something of a mondegreen among Americans. It can be misinterpreted as a mitigation of the masculine or as a proposed solution (however misguided) to sexism. It is, as I understand it, meant as an embodiment of the best qualities of both gender worlds. That's really what Duran Duran were all about in many ways and that's why there were few better visual representations of this than Nagel. For reasons similar, it's also why writer Neil Gaiman chose Nagel portraits as his inspiration for the entity Desire in his Sandman comics. Desire is, after all, a gender neutral state.

Nagel died an untimely death at age 38 a mere two years after the release of Rio. He leaves behind a collection of work that is still sought after and is forever intertwined with the legacy of Duran Duran. To further that point, take a look at this fan-rendering of Nick Rhodes:

Found these images in a search. I had not seen them before and yet I already count them among my Nagel favorites.

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  1. I immediately fell in love with Nagel's style, too. I have a few of my own. In my searching for his works, I have also found Erte. A more art deco style in his work, but also similar in that beautiful quality of simple white skin and dark hair, though Erte used FAR more ornate designs in the details. Nagel's style was crisp and clean in comparison. Rio was also not his first album cover. Take a look through his work and you will find so many amazing things. It is also interesting to see how his style evolved into that crisp 80s defining look. I love thew few men he did, too. Chiseled features on many of those. I would have loved to see what Nagel would have done with the likes of John Taylor in his 20s. That bone structure would have been a perfect subject matter.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Miss November Tuesday and I couldn't agree more.
    By the way, fine choice of screen names. :) Always wanted to write something with a ship in it named The November Tuesday.


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