Nail Salons and the Enduring Legacy of Patrick Nagel
Today's critics refer to artist Patrick Nagel's work as "pervy mall art," but the sharply linear portraits were hot shit in the 1980s. Nagel designed the album cover to Duran Duran's best-selling Rio, featuring a gorgeous young lady and presumed owner of the "cherry ice cream smile," with a trademark mélange of diagonal lines, flatness, tendrils, purple drop earrings, and heavy black liquid eyeliner.
Loads of Nagel's paintings also appeared in Playboy magazine, and to remind the readers of their essential manly nature, Nagel dressed his coldly alluring subjects in leg warmers, spike heels, and bikini panties, then showcased their naked boobs in inventive ways: jackets slung open, dresses cut low, or camisoles pulled down. If the images were real people, they'd be compulsively immersed in hobbies involving mauve seashell collectibles or recreational cocaine usage, while living in spartan apartments with stucco ceilings and white carpet and black leather couches and water beds and venetian blinds, and every time you dropped by they'd be listening to the best song you ever heard in your life. "I don't think I want to know these women too well. They never come out in the sunlight. They stay up late and smoke and drink a lot," Karl Bornstein recalls Nagel saying, in the coffee table book Nagel: The Art of Patrick Nagel.
Nagel's story ends tragically, ironically, and 1984-ishly, following his participation as a celebrity guest in an Aerobathon, a televised fundraiser for the American Heart Association. Shortly after his 15-minute bout of aerobics, he had a heart attack and died, though his legacy prevails in the form of the many Nagel-inspired decals adorning the windows of hair and nail salons throughout our city. Delightful examples include Lake City's wood-paneled parlor Lovely Nails (11518 Lake City Way NE, 417-4946), with a sparkle-eyed woman and a roll call of retro beauty trends to enhance her features: geometric eye shadow, geometric earrings, and windblown hair set with pizzazz-inducing magenta squiggles. The sign lady from the International District's Kim Hair Salon (526 S Jackson St, 326-6689) is the fairest of them all, her expression holding a certain dreamy obsessiveness. And Columbia City's Hollywood Nails (4203 Rainier Ave S, 723-7871) features a vacant and sophisticated blonde. She's gripping a rose, probably a silk or polyester version, the petals stiffened with gelatin and embedded with clear plastic dewdrops.
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