Was Patrick Nagel’s Artwork the “Keep Calm” Poster of the 1980s?

updated Mar 11, 2020
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
(Image credit: Vander Most Modern/Etsy)

A few things you should know about my childhood: I was born in 1986 to parents who were (and still are) pretty major fans of Duran Duran. I knew all the words to both “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “Mmmbop,” and I had opened the “Rio” CD jewel case enough to recognize the framed print on our living room wall was a dead ringer for Duran Duran’s album cover. What I did not know at the time was that almost every home in America in the 1980’s had similar art on the wall.

Our print was one of many works by artist Patrick Nagel (1945–1984), which today look more like they belong in a nail salon than a living room. And in the past maybe ten years (my parents had enough sense to take the print down somewhere circa Y2K, I’m guessing), I had not thought about that Patrick Nagel print a single time until last Thursday.

Thanks to an amusing concurrence, a Reddit user recently posted to the /r/pics subreddit a dimly lit photo of his living room where you can see a characteristic Patrick Nagel print on his wall (yes, the photo was presumably taken in 2016, proving that Apartment Therapy and Reddit’s readerships don’t completely overlap) right next to a TV frozen on a scene from “American Dad” that lampoons the same Patrick Nagel piece.

(Image credit: TheVandalSquad/Reddit)

It made me chuckle. It made me remember the “Rio” print in my parents’ living room. And a comment by GhostalMedia put Nagel’s work into perspective for me: These quintessentially 80s, ambiguously sexy nail salon ladies were, in fact, the Keep Calm and Carry On poster of their generation. Apparently everyone in the 80s had Nagel’s prints on their walls. Just like everyone around 2005 had Keep Calm posters. And For Like Ever posters in 2007.

Nagel’s girls were just so quintessentially cool at the time, but their popularity burned too bright for this world. They eventually fizzled out, presumably amongst a sea of pre-internet commenters crying “Anybody else sick of these things? They’re in, like, three house tours this week.”

Nagel originals cost a mint, but you can have a Nagel-style oil painting like the one at the top of this post from Etsy for less than $200.