Ambergris is Shag’s 48th solo exhibit and his third at Jonathan LeVine Gallery in New York. It is the first in nearly two years to exhibit elements of what many fans describe as “classic Shag.”

With a renewed interest in surfing, and with curious inspiration from previous re-occurring nightmares of whales trying to kill him, Shag has carried over his nautical interests for the theme of his latest exhibit. Many of the works are filled with tattooed shipmates, vintage sailing vessels and bottles of rum. Each of the works in the new series also feature a whale (or whales) detailed with pinstripe tribal markings. Several of the paintings illustrate the ocean mammals in the form of a balloon. (One of the other large paintings in the show, Black Drops, was actually displayed earlier this year as part of a group show in California. You can read that review here).

The show’s title, Ambergris, is an interesting one. For those that don’t know, ambergris (meaning “grey amber”) is a natural substance regurgitated from sperm whales and can be found floating in the ocean or washed up on beaches. Historically it has been a common ingredient in perfume. Agle found this natural phenomenon an appropriate metaphor to convey the concept behind his new body of work, embracing the idea that a repulsive material coming from an unpleasant source might somehow magically transform into a highly valued and coveted luxury commodity.*

Continuing with the more recent trend of incorporating larger storyboard-like digital works on canvas into his exhibits, Shag has created The Lighthouse, which is a continuation of The Cryptologist’s Mistress from his previous exhibit. In all, Agle has created nine large continuation works in 2010, starting with An Exquisite Hunger. Agle has placed a representation of himself in each one, the boy in the school uniform with the head of an ant, and in The Lighthouse he seems to be taking symbolic aim with harpoon in hand.

In what is arguably the coolest painting of the exhibit, Spy Hoppers, Shag has married all the details of past and present style and influences. The overall composition has a darker, more subdued hue, yet has strong pops of vibrant color in some of the classic Shag details, such as the orange end table, floating surreally off the edge of the cliff with a bottle of bright green liquor. Then there’s the classic mid-century chair adorned with the lounging woman in classic Shag form. Balance of color is always an integral part of most Shag paintings, and Agle’s use of seven orange birds peering from their cliff-side nests provide bold pops of unique visual interest. Agle’s long-standing love affair with Polynesian culture is evident, with a classic Moai tiki sculpture prominent on the South Pacific island backdrop. The nautical and oceanic theme of Ambergris is bold and obvious with two large black sperm whales “spy hopping” along side a small boat proudly showcasing a find of the prized grey ambergris. The boat’s captain, sporting a crisp white coat and hat, enjoys his cocktail as he glances down admiring the prized find.

With the return of lounging women amongst mid-century environments (something largely missing from many of his works from the past two years), Ambergris seems to further reconcile Agle’s earlier style of painting. Of course, the unexpected twists that have always been found in his works have the ability to supply an unlimited amount of mysterious swanky hipster goodness.

* excerpt from Jonathan LeVine Gallery’s web page show description


One Response to “Ambergris”

  1. Juliana Says:

    thanks so much for your great reviews…

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