Thee absolute REASON why I am an illustrator today? My mother, being a teen of the 80s and a starving artist in Pittsburgh, struggled through art school salvaging her spoils of war: a huge portfolio, bottles of India ink, scraps of ad-art drafts, art pads full of sketches, you name it. The best of these were two copies- hardcover and paperback-of Patrick Nagel’s art book full of his acrylic prints. My mother gifted me the hardcover edition and I’ve loved lines ever since!
Tribute from a Fan
Me being a Manga fan, a Korean manhwa fan even, I of course am a little biased already, but the Japanese influence in his work, artistically speaking, is evident.
Elena G. Millie, the author of Nagel’s art book emphasizes that this influence presents itself through all the awkward angles present in almost every painting. Nagel tends to use diagonal lines to his advantage and a lot of the time his subjects will almost break the fourth wall, comic-book style, because of this use of lines. Pretty neat. This is also the reason why looking away is so hard; the shapes his lines make can pull the gaze, engaging onlookers. This is all thanks to Japanese woodblock prints, the origin of the manga style.
If I’m bringing up Japanese woodblock prints at all though, I have to talk about Ukiyo-e. These prints tend to imply three-dimensions by overlapping lines and placing the focus of the piece to the foreground while images in the background are smaller. This printing method and all the processes it entails deserve a whole separate post, so I’ll keep it short. Ukiyo-e (pronounced [oo-KYO-eh]) literally means “floating world picture,” according to one of my sources where the subject matter of these images tend to be high-life society, the flourishing middle class. Interestingly the relative of this print style is called Uki-e (pronounced [oo-KEY-eh]), which translates to “floating pictures.” The term floating in both these cases again, refer to the high-life style and the individuals to who go about their daily lives, cutting the edge of the early 19th century. To give further context on how Nagel used this style and why I think this direction suited him, I’ll share the differences between Ukiyo-e and Uki-e. The latter illustrates how westernization started to permeate Japanese culture, since the woodblock carvers started to veer away from ancient Chinese print style, utilizing the western use of perspective instead. Ukiyo-e uses this same approach but initially emphasized sensationalized figures of high-end, middle-class, pre-Tokyo society: theatre actors and red-light district courtesans. In these fashions, Japanese woodblock art became contemporary art, the modern art of their day, and eventually so were Nagel’s.
Less Is More
Minimalism, another discipline Japanese culture demonstrates, is another style that Nagel uses to his advantage. Honestly I know little about the style, so it’s fascinating to get a closer look. I’ll keep it brief. The definition of what minimalism is varies depending on where a person is coming from. On the one hand, this could be a lifestyle, while on the other it can be an art. Speaking as an artist myself, I can see how it’s often both. Some musicians use it, average citizens and travelers use it; painters use it. Nagel of course is the latter. Minimalism in his case involves very few colors and almost always incorporates black and white. This got huge during 19th century eras ranging from the roaring 20s to the 50s with the creation of black-and-white panel patterns with a few squares in-between being a primary color. (You can see this influence today via the worldwide best-selling bikini brand Triangl) There’s a use of contrast and thanks to these colors and how they’re arranged, one can manipulate space and form. This doesn’t even begin to cover all there is to know about minimalism. I don’t need to know a lot, though, to see how groundbreaking Nagel’s art was and how bold a statement it made. Traditionally minimalism emphasizes a lack of expression, open spaces and just plain shapes. Nagel’s subjects were almost always people. He retains realism with human, anatomical focus but also had a knack for turning people into shapes, whose often white skin tones, provided negative space needed to balance the otherwise filled-in shapes within his pictures. Hello, art deco!
So much can be said and seemingly never enough about Patrick Nagel’s work, but after all is said and done, I for one am not surprised at the clientele who swarmed for his wares. Who sells out art shows in THIRTY MINUTES!? I can’t get over all the big wigs for that Nagel commissioned for: MGM studios, Playboy –the WHITE HOUSE. The dang LOUVRE has some of his original prints. Even as my own art improves and my style develops, I will always happily come second-to-last to the-very-last to Nagel’s work.
Keeping with the Japanese theme, that I somehow can’t get enough of, I made another neat connection in my research. Patrick Nagel’s work is famous for the style, without question, but even more so for the iconic women featured in his art. They’re all captivating, even the few men in some of Nagel’s paintings (his Spanish commissions, for example ^_^) are not only attractive, but just as commanding for the viewer’s attention. Originally the Japanese woodblock prints were the same way. If nothing else, the woodblocks originally depicted elusive, sensationalized, often anonymous women or a female character of some sort –usually a concubine—way before the prints started to show historical events and the like. In many ways, I feel like the Japanese influence was meant to be. Some of Nagel’s work, once featured in art expos hosted in Japan, pay homage to this influence.
WANNA LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS TOPIC?
- Patrick Nagel (Website)
- Understanding Minimalism
- Art Movements (United Kingdom)
- Encyclopedia Britannica
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Affiliate)
- Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Fuji Arts (Shop^^)
**COA's, Disclaimers and ETC's**
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Please pardon me if I am not too accurate with the subjects I post about. I do try my best to stay current and not generalize. Constructive criticism and “Grammar Nazis” are welcome (especially about my artwork ^_^), but no flames …[pretty] PLEASE? If you have anything to add, correct or would like to share any cool topics you’d like me to draw for, feel free to click on the links towards the bottom of each page, or drop me a message here!