Worn Out

Nail Salons and the Enduring Legacy of Patrick Nagel

Worn Out

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. recommended

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Awesome article
Posted by No Excuses on May 6, 2013 at 3:19 PM · Report this
TomJohnsonJr 2
Yeah yeah yeah! What a great article.
Posted by TomJohnsonJr on May 7, 2013 at 11:59 AM · Report this
--MC 3
So, no truth to the rumor that if your nail place has an image of a woman holding a rose on the front door or window, that the place is owned by Moonies?
Posted by --MC on May 7, 2013 at 12:13 PM · Report this
Thank you a TON for this article - I have definitely noticed how nail salons everywhere seem to use the same few images in that distinctive style and wondered about it. While it doesn't really help with the question as to *why* they all use the same decals (are they actual examples of Nagel's work, or just in his style? do all nail salons use the same wholesalers or something?), at least I now know the source and some fun background!

Oh, and now I have to go listen to Rio.
Posted by Juris on May 7, 2013 at 12:13 PM · Report this
Fnarf 5
The secret culture of our cities. Thanks for this.
Posted by Fnarf on May 7, 2013 at 12:15 PM · Report this
I'm, uh, never going to admit, publicly, that I owned several Nagel lithographs in the 80s...
Posted by LaFemmeMonkita on May 7, 2013 at 2:01 PM · Report this
stirwise 7
I'd love to see a follow-up on the person behind the gyro ladies. Since they aren't as ubiquitous here in Seattle as they are elsewhere, though, I won't hold my breath.
Posted by stirwise on May 7, 2013 at 2:40 PM · Report this
As a former fanatical Nagel collector, I think this article is crap--inaccurate and misleading.

Miscellaneous notes:
- He did a lot more than the little Playboy images and the Rio cover: dozens of innovative, striking, collectible serigraphs (#6-these are silkscreens, not lithographs) and some cheaper offset posters, I believe. Also, paintings and even a sculpture or two.

- The first printing of the book was awful--the colors were all wrong and he used unusual colors. I can't remember if they ever really got it right.

- The women in nearly all of his images were said to be based on his ex-model wife, Jennifer Dumas, who he was crazy about. At Cal Expo in S.F., when he was signing the poster he did for that big art show with all the hot artists, I asked him abut that. He smiled and said there was some truth to it.

- There is nothing "mall" or "pervy" about the posters that were ubiquitous in '80-'88. I've never read a critic that used those terms. He was well-regarded in commercial art and fine art circles and collected by gallery owners themselves.

- There was a strong Art Deco feel to many of his early posters (which were more artistic and less commercial and "slick" than the later ones, and also an acknowledged Japanese influence (black hair, white face, red lips, the occasional motif like in Paper Mill and Dyptych, some of my favorites).

- He was a really nice, humble guy.

- In case you're wondering: some in storage, some unframed, all still owned by me, including: Mother Earths, Park South, Iowa Agronomics, Silver Sunbeam, Papillon... and eventually, the elusive Mirage Ship! (Really--found it in '88 in another gallery owners collection.)

Posted by Nagel Nut on May 10, 2013 at 11:54 PM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 9
I was talking to a vintage dealer in Palm Springs today (yes, I am in Palm Springs. Name dropper!) and he said that "the kids" are all starting to ask for Nagels. We shared a shudder, but what goes around comes around. My parents HATED my taste in mid-century furniture.
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on May 16, 2013 at 6:21 PM · Report this
These images on nail salons are a Nagel style they were made by a company in California called or the website is still there but no one ever an swears the telephone, they must have been very popular back in the days, the company also manufacture: images for hair, salons pizza stores, chiropractors dentist pet stores and properly an array off other business, the artist was a English man from east London, called Tony Maffia he came over to the States back in the 80,s and realized there were over 275.000 hair and nail salons registered in the United States, the majority off which needed some form off street advertising, he made so much money out off his work he took off on a yacht , last I heard off him he was chilling on a island down in the south Caribbean
Posted by Tony maffia on October 8, 2013 at 2:43 PM · Report this

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