Tikiheads, black cats, minotaurs and stylish women may seemingly have little in common with one another. Yet there’s a California artist, inspired by tiki bars and mid-century interiors, who feels differently; An artist who effortlessly blends one or all of these elements, quite purposefully, into a stylized animated-like world of mystery and intrigue. Always unpredictable, these lavish, bold and colorful settings exist in lively paintings, both vibrant and mysterious. Welcome to the seductive and mysterious world created by Josh Agle, better known to the public and his fans as Shag.
While most people associate “shag” with mid-century rugs, the name Shag is a combination of the last two letters of his first name, and first two letters of his last. For an established artist, It’s quite an accomplishment when a gallery sells every original painting at the opening night of an anticipated reception. It’s quite something else when every original work of art is sold days, if not weeks prior to an opening, often site unseen. Not many artists, even well established ones, can pride themselves in knowing every painting will have long been sold out by the opening night of their exhibitions. There are a handful of painters, however, like Shag, who seem to have an amazing ability to evoke an “intrigue-at-firstsight” amongst their admirers and collectors alike, creating a strong demand for these sought after paintings. Maybe it’s a mixed cocktail of emotion blending intrigue and passion, or maybe it’s a gut feeling knowing that this is an artist approaching the ranks of an Andy Warhol or Keith Haring. Whatever it is, it’s a phenomenon of more than 40 sold out solo Shag exhibitions in a mere ten short years.
Before the birth of Shag, Josh Agle did commercial artwork, including album covers for various bands, including his own, The Swamp Zombies. There was an immediate draw to his unique style of painting, inspired by mid-century animation masters like Jim Flora and Gene Deitch. It wasn’t long before Shag’s style took a shape of it’s own. A common theme was beginning to take form in his highly stylized, cartoonish-like works. Mid-century culture seemed to dominate the landscape of these vibrantly painted fantasy worlds, filled with cocktails, headhunters, sleek women and tikis.
Beyond the sometimes peculiar or even ironic themes, the titles of the paintings themselves force you to look deeper. While Wives with Knives can be taken quite literal, The Landlord Meets the Serpent requires a little more contemplation. Shag might spend an entire day deliberating on a name for his painting, a detail that often gives more clues to the mystery within. However, Agle prefers not to discuss the painting’s subject matter, preferring the admirer to conclude the story for themselves. People may see the same painting in two different ways, and that’s really the point.
The evolution of Shag’s paintings has been subtle in certain ways, his refined brush stroke, for example, is razor sharp, and only seems to become even more refined with time. What’s not so subtle, however, is the evolution in the value and cost of his paintings. When Agle first started out, a larger Shag painting, like Wives with Knives in 1996, sold for about $750. Today, a painting that size will sell for $15,000, or more, and the lucky owner had likely been on a waiting list a long time. In fact, it’s not uncommon for a gallery to have a list of 200 or more names of eager collectors and fans, waiting as long as two or more years just to get the chance at owning these coveted works of art. Collectors often recognize these paintings as serious investments. A painting from 2000, for example, which originally sold for $3000 was sold to a collector for $6000 just three years later. A mere nine months later the painting appeared on eBay and sold for $11,000. It’s no wonder that collectors and investors alike are eager to get on ever-growing waiting lists.
In Shag’s early days, the subject matter was often raw, yet the style was already well defined. Often a painting would revolve around environments filled with tiki influence, be it a 50’s-style cocktail lounge, or settings of blowfish light fixtures and primitive island idols. Sometimes the themes were a bit more off-beat, like Shriners jumping mini-cars over angry dogs, and the devil burning personal love letters in his fireplace from his horned high-back easy chair. There seems to be no end to the source of Shag’s inspiration. While tikis still appear in some of his paintings today, Agle has branched out into a broader range of influence and style. In 2005, Agle held simultaneous shows in Los Angeles, LA by Day and LA by Night. The exhibit featured 22 paintings, 11 various themes of Los Angeles culture and landmarks during the day, and 11 more of the same subject matter under the blanket of night. On the Shoulder of Giants, held in Melbourne and Sydney Australia in 2006, featured 20 paintings in a tribute to some of the great masters of the 20th century, including some of Agle’s favorites: Picasso, Matisse and Rousseau.
Donna Con Bambino, held in New York City later that year, featured 17 paintings depicting a theme of stylized, seductive women posing in lavish interiors with their exotic pets, seemingly unconcerned with the disasters airing live on their televisions.
While painting acrylic on board has been a preferred medium for the artist who commands perfection from each brush stroke, Shag has more recently taken on canvases, some larger than eight feet wide. He’s also painted on canvases quite small. Most recently Shag created 100 six inch square paintings for his Conspicuous Consumption exhibit in Los Angeles. This show gave many fans the chance to finally own an original, for a cool $1000 each. Agle has also taken on an entirely new medium, a blend of acrylic and India ink on paper. He debuted his drawings in Madrid, Spain in Four Hands: The Drawings of Shag, featuring simpleyet classic shag characters, including minotaurs, pink elephants, hip birds and hula girls.
Shag’s growing success and popularity seems to have no end in sight. He was hired to create four original paintings to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room. Then more recently he was commissioned to recreate paintings for the theme-park’s five original lands in celebration of Disneyland’s 50th Anniversary. The images have been reproduced as mini-prints and used in merchandising in the form of coffee and tiki mugs, placemats, collector pins, and clothing. Shag has also been approached by numerous charitable organizations. He recently created a limited edition serigraph for the Ennis House Foundation. The proceeds are helping to raise funds to restore the world famous 1924 house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Most recently, Shag teamed up with Shrine El Bekal in Southern California and created a unique limited edition box set of prints depicting a Shriner Parade. The sets benefit the Shriner Hospitals for Children.
Today, Agle continues to paint seven days a week from his home in Orange County, California. With demand for his works ever on the rise, and with future shows in Spain and Australia, it’s no wonder he stays on a tight and busy schedule, painting every day, often late at night and early in the morning. The future certainly looks bright for Shag. There are more people who want his highly sought after paintings than he can generate. And as long as there is an appeal for the colorful and bold worlds he creates on boards and canvases, there will always be a large following of eager fans, collectors and investors who are anxious to see his next sold-out exhibition.