Following a year of darker themed works revealing a more serious Josh Agle, Shag brings back a more playful tone with unique Polynesian tikis in his sixth solo exhibit at Outre Gallery in Australia.
The exhibit, Inscrutable Mystery Guide
, is a vast collection of 99 original tiki paintings, along with five new large spanning landscape works on canvas, set-up much like a Hieronymus Bosch triptych. Each is a continuation of the other, with the series actually continuing from Black Eyes
from the Red Star, Black Eye
exhibit earlier in the year.
Inscrutable Mystery Guide is the essence of what has, in many ways, largely defined much of Shag’s art – playful mystery with tiki influence in bold and bright colors. The current exhibit is an attempt to reconcile his old body of work with the new, but with a unique twist – a small inscrutable mystery guide, or book, that accompanies each small tiki painting. Each of the ninety-nine 7 x 9 inch original works bear a unique symbol either held by, or “carved” within each tiki. Only within the accompanying guide will one be able to decode the unique symbols and gain insight into the mysteries of the works.
While the individual paintings embrace more of a “classic Shag” feel, the larger works continue to be more surreal and complex. They also provide further clues to the meaning of Inscrutable Mystery Guide
. The color palate of the large works aren’t as dark as his last two exhibits, but are very much in the vein of his newer direction and are filled with hidden meaning. In fact, the entire series of the six large panels tell a story, and some seem to speak of the nature of how Inscrutable Mystery Guide
came to be. Recently, Shag had described how he was beginning to feel like a factory worker, churning out paintings of images people expected of him. In The Efficiency Expert
, there’s a tribal gentleman holding a coin or token with a denomination of “99″ (the number of individual tiki paintings created for the exhibit). He seems to be ordering, or supervising the production of 99 tikis, which are being carved by the hands of child labor. In the background above, Shag sits in a mid-century chair within a bamboo hut, reminiscent of a cage or cell. He’s also shackled at the ankle, yet the chain seems to be unanchored. The story continues through Low Hanging Fruit,
where the tikis fall from the conveyor belt into a large pit, from which a giant fruiting tree grows. ”Cashing in” on the low hanging fruit is hit or miss though, as the fruit isn’t picked, but randomly swung at by blind-folded tribesmen.
When asked in the recent Australian Penthouse interview if the works were in anyway self referential, he points out that he’s included a self-portrait of himself in each one. Shag is easy to spot in his own works - tall, thin, glasses and a black striped shirt. Interestingly, though, he reveals that his reoccurring character is the boy in the British uniform with the head of an ant, which is also found in each large current work (and additionally found in his past two exhibits).
Inscrutable Mystery Guide is Shag’s 47th solo gallery exhibit, but one of the first where he seems to be providing more clues and meaning regarding his life and work. In a current interview he explains the theme of the larger works allude to the time when Europeans were colonizing the South Pacific, destroying the old ways and establishing Christianity. However, any additional clues or deeper explanation will only be given to the owners of the 99 tiki paintings through their own Inscrutable Mystery Guide.
The complexity of Inscrutable Mystery Guide is woven with clues and meaning, yet the story within the composition is quite elusive. One might even describe it as “inscrutable”.